Local workers lose too when bosses exploit foreign labour in broken work visa system

Nicholas McCallum

MEDIA RELEASE: Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Electrical Trades Union will today highlight before a Senate Inquiry the rampant exploitation of foreign labour under the Temporary Work Visa System that simultaneously denies opportunities for Australia’s skilled workers and apprentices.

Nowhere is this crisis more prevalent than in Queensland, where unemployment is above the national average. In the states central and northern region – in the federal electorates of Dawson, Capricornia and Herbert in particular – unemployment is above 7%.

ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks said despite the high numbers of Australian workers looking for work in these regions, where hundreds of millions are being spent on multiple solar farms and renewable energy – purported to be “job creation projects” – work on these jobsites is increasingly being done by foreign, often unlicensed workers.

“With so much work underway in the renewable energy space across Australia, you would think there are countless opportunities for licensed electricians and electrical apprentices to find meaningful, well-paid work,” he said.

“However, because the visa-worker system is so open to exploitation local workers are being overlooked as overseas workers are brought in and exploited.

“Many unemployed electrical workers from the region have simply been told they are not needed on jobs in their area.

“As these projects go on, the ETU has had more than 100 unemployed electrical workers on the books, desperate to find work to feed their families and cover their bills.

“This leads to displacement as skilled workers leave their communities in search of work while foreign labour is brought in to fill jobs cheaply.”

Exploitation of the work visa system is also accelerating the skills deficit, at a time when massive infrastructure and public works projects are set to begin across the country.

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research there are now 191, 355 fewer apprentices and trainees in Australia compared to the first quarter of 2012, of which a reduction of 36,330 is attributable to Queensland.

This massive drop over the past six years, coupled to severe cuts to TAFE funding of more than $3 billion over the same period, is creating another skills crisis that will have ramifications for generations.

“We’re seeing young people denied opportunities to learn a trade because unscrupulous bosses are taking advantage of the broken visa system,” Mr Hicks said.

“On one Queensland solar farm project there were 700 workers during its peak, 115 foreign workers but only two local apprentices. And this is not an isolated case.”

Central to the opportunities being denied to local apprentices and licensed electrical workers are the foreign workers who are treated and paid poorly and too often live and work in poor conditions.

“At a time of record-low wages growth in Australia, our pay and conditions are being further dragged down by unscrupulous bosses exploiting workers in a broken system,” Mr Hicks said.

“It’s clear the rules are broken on this system and Morrison Government wants you to think that 1000 asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru are a threat to our way of life when these companies and these bosses who are taking advantage of foreign workers and denying local workers opportunities in their own regions.

“It’s time the Morrison Government held these companies to account so they stop exploiting foreign labour and a broken system and start putting Australian workers first.”


ETU Submission to Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Inquiry into the effectiveness of the current temporary skilled visa system in targeting genuine skills shortages | December 2018

WAGE THEFT IN SILENCE: Why Migrant Workers Do Not Recover Their Unpaid Wages In Australia – Bassina Farbenblum and Laurie Berg I October 2018

An analysis of employers’ use of temporary skilled visas in Australia - Dr Chris F. Wright and Dr Andreea Constantin | May 2015


Media enquiries: ETU National Communications Coordinator – Nicholas McCallum

0419 499 886, [email protected]

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