12 June 2013

Hotel industry urges calm in Australian 457 visa row

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The head of the Australian Hotels Association has urged the federal government not to go overboard in its tightening of the 457 visa regime.

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Hospitality industry heads are urging ministers 'not to go overboard' in the 457 visa row.

The 457 visa - which allows temporary foreign workers to live and work in Australia - has attracted the ire of the Labor government in recent months which Prime Minister Julia Gillard promising to clamp down on alleged abuse of the system.

Government critics have argued that abuse of the system - known as 'rorting' - is not near on the scale the government has claimed but ministers have refused to back down with Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor introducing legislation in the House of Representative this week.

Mr O'Connor said there are currently over 100,000 457 visas in use in Australia representing a more than 50% increase in its usage since 2010.

"It concerns the government that, at a time when the labour market has been flattening and some sectors and regions have experienced lay-offs and increased unemployment, the subclass 457 program has continued to grow," he said in a statement.

The minister's legislation proposes tougher checks on Australian employers wishing to bring in foreign workers and harsher penalties for those caught in breach of the new rules.

Des Crowe, chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), however, has said the minister is playing politics with the 457 visa scheme to appeal to voters in the run up to the federal elections later this year.

Mr Crowe said the 457 visa scheme was a vital part of the hospitality industry and legislation to make access to the visa harder would ultimately damage the industry.

"The AHA is urging the government not to go overboard with its own rhetoric on overseas workers and to instead focus on achieving the best policy outcome, one that protects workers' entitlements and meets the labour needs of business," he said.

"The reality is that there were 5,390 457 visas granted in the industry over the past 12 months from a total industry workforce of 796,000, amounting to less than one per cent of all workers. This figure includes visas held by many cooks and chefs working not in hotels or restaurants but in other businesses such as hospitals, aged care facilities and mining sites.

"Despite making up a relatively small proportion of the industry workforce, 457 visas remain an important part of business strategies to overcome shortages of skills and labour that can’t be filled by the local population."

The immigration minister has previously said that any gaps in the labour force unable to be filled by local labour as a result of changes to the 457 visa program could be filled by working holiday makers but Mr Crowe said overseas workers are vital regardless of the visa they are using.

"If employers could fill their labour needs locally, there would be no need or desire for overseas workers, but for as long as there are local labour shortages, businesses will continue needing to find workers from overseas to fill these gaps."


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