Industry bodies are extremely concerned about the political debate surrounding the 457 visa scheme, with claims that it has even invoked “racist sentiment”.
A senate committee has been charged with investigating the popular programme for temporary workers and so far 22 submissions have been received from a range of groups including academics, migration experts and industry representatives.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that it has become increasingly alarmed at the recent public commentary and that the 457 visa scheme has become subjected to a series of unsubstantiated claims.
The chamber claims that the scheme has been used to “invoke parochial and even racist sentiment with claims of foreign workers “stealing” jobs from unemployed Australians.”
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor recently claimed there were more than 10,000 abuses of the system and that there would be 350,000 temporary workers from overseas on 457 visas in Australia in three years time if demand continued at the current rate.
However, the chamber pointed out that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) reports few cases of abuse with 125 employers sanction in 2011/2012 with a further 449 employers formally warned.
“In any scheme, there will always be a small minority that don’t play by the rules. The government, with the full support of employers out there doing the right thing, should target those rule breakers through rigourous enforcement rather than reducing access to employers meeting the requirements.
“Since August 2012, the 457 visa trend has been downward, so concerns about alarming growth are unfounded, as are exaggerated claims of rorts and projections of visa numbers being over 300,000. This is unnecessarily alarmist, and a rational, evidence based discussion needs to return,” it stated.
The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) also sent in a strongly worded submission, which argued that the “recent demonisation of 457 workers is extremely damaging.”
AMMA believes that the misleading depictions of 457 workers has tarnished Australia’s reputation as an open economy ready to do business with the world.
“The depiction that skilled migrants as foreigners that need to be “put at the back of the queue” and that Australians are being “discriminated against”, is base rhetoric that borders dog-whistling and invites allegations of industrial xenophobia,” the submission states.
They pointed out that it is up to $60,000 more expensive to employ a foreign worker than an Australian and that AMMA members have struggled to recruit their entire workforce locally as people are reluctant to relocate to remote regions.
“There have been incentive programmes run by government offering to pay for relocation for the long term unemployed to the resource rich areas, but these schemes have struggled for want of applicants. Money alone cannot lure essential skills to remote areas if the skills are not extant in this country, or the people with those skills will not relocate to where the skills are in demand from the resource industry,” AMMA states.
AMMA point out that 457 visa holders account for 2.3 per cent of the mining industry workforce and that they play a statistically small but essential niche role in the industry.
Consult Australia, which represents businesses in the areas of engineering, architecture and design, argued in its submission that skilled migration programs are essential to the health of engineering-based companies and the Australian economy.
“If the facility to quickly and efficiently recruit temporary skilled migrants did not exist, the Australian economy would cease to function as we know it,” the group states in their submission.
“Politicians, unions and industry associations easily forget that the public in general, workers and business owners in particular do not see what is, to us, simply political posturing.”
The Transport Workers’ Union, which represents 90,000 workers, states it doesn’t oppose the use of the scheme but believe it should only be used for genuine shortages. The Union has reported a 21 per cent increase in 457 visas granted in the transport, postal and warehousing industries over the past year.
“The ongoing public debate on migration to Australia, particularly the 457 visa scheme, forces us to consider the type of society we want in Australia. While we don’t oppose the use of 457 visas we do believe that it is there for genuine shortages and not for employers to exploit workers,” the union states.
“The TWU has been vocal on the manipulation of the 457 visa scheme by unscrupulous employers who have used this as a means to exploit foreign workers, evade their responsibility to educate and train locals and to undercut Australian companies that play by the rules.
“As we are seeing an explosion of “demand” for foreign workers without the proper labour market testing to determine whether demand and supply are in equilibrium. This is a deliberate undermining of Australian labour rights, conditions and wages.
“Without changes to tighten up the current system, the abuse will only continue and it will be the Australian workers and their families that will suffer.”