The Federal Government’s announcement that minimum English language requirements for workers on 457 visas will be lowered poses a serious workplace safety risk in many dangerous industries, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.
Among a raft of changes announced today by Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash to the temporary skilled migration program is a reduction in the standard for reading, writing, comprehension and speaking English by prospective workers.
While the current system requires workers to score a mark of at least five in each area, the new system will accept an average mark, allowing workers with lower proficiencies in some of those key skills to still be approved for the 457 visa.
“Many of the industries that are the heaviest users of workers on the 457 visa scheme are extremely dangerous, with high chances of injury or even death when tasks are not carried out appropriately,” Mr Hicks said.
“Lowering the English language requirement, so that workers with lower reading, writing, comprehension or speaking skills are approved — despite not meeting the current workplace standards — is a recipe for disaster.
“If a worker with inadequate language skills misunderstands instructions, can’t comprehend written safety information, or struggles to communicate potential risks to workmates, there is a very real risk that people will be injured or killed.
“There is absolutely no justification for weakening the language skills requirements for workers who are being brought to the country to fill specialist skilled jobs.”
Mr Hicks cautiously welcomed other announced changes, including the strengthening of data sharing to ensure workers are not underpaid, and greater penalties for companies that accept kick-backs for employing workers on 457 visas.
“Unfortunately, many unscrupulous employers have seen the 457 visa program as an easy way to import vulnerable, compliant workers who don’t know their legal rights,” he said.
“Ensuring workers are not exploited, and culprits are found and prosecuted, is an essential step towards improving Australia’s temporary skilled migration program.”