The Federal Government has been urged to reject key recommendations of the independent panel reviewing the 457 visa program, released today, amid fears they will reduce investment in skills training, wages, lower English language requirements and abolish labour market testing.
The Electrical Trades Union welcomed key principles encapsulated in the report, including the need for transparency, evidence based decisions, protections for the rights of 457 visa holders, strong monitoring, and discouragement of abuse, but warned that it included a number of potentially damaging proposals.
ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said that while the union accepted the need for employers to be able to access specialist skills from overseas that are unavailable locally, the experience of many industries had been of companies using the 457 visa as an alternative to investing in local training.
“The recommendations of this panel will only worsen the skills situation in Australia,” Mr Hicks said.
“The National Training Fund is an absolute joke, drastically reducing the obligation of employers in invest in local skills, and leading to a significant backwards step for the nation.
“Currently, a company has to contribute at least one per cent of their payroll before they are able to engage a single 457 visa holder, so a business with annual wages turnover of $1 million would need to contribute $10,000.
“Under the proposed changes to the scheme, an employer of that size could engage up to 25 workers on the 457 visa before making the same sized contribution to training in Australia.”
Mr Hicks also criticised the proposal to abolish labour market testing.
“While we welcome the recommendation of a more rigorous process for identifying eligible occupations, based on hard facts and tripartite negotiation, it should be in addition to the requirement that employers test the market to show the skills they require are not available,” he said.
“Macro-economic evidence of skills shortages do not mean that a skill is unavailable where an employer is operating, and if there is a skilled worker available to do that job, they should get that opportunity.”
The ETU also expressed concerns that current requirements for skills assessments and market rates of pay would no longer apply to occupations with base salaries above $96,000, which includes a range of specialist trades.
“Hidden within this report are a range of hidden nasties that could see overseas workers employed on rates that are below those paid to local workers, and in some circumstances below the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold,” Mr Hicks said.
“In dangerous industries like ours, the lowering of English language requirements would also be extremely concerning due to its potential impact on workplace safety.”