13 September 2006

Western Australia desperate for construction workers

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The Western Australian Government could be forced to cancel some capital works projects due to a lack of skilled construction workers in the state.

The severe skills shortage has led to the Western Australian Government calling for changes to the federal immigration system to fast-track overseas workers to fill its growing shortage of skilled labour.

Western Australia's economy grew at an impressive 14% last year and the State government is investing AU$18 billion in an infrastructure spending program, but without enough workers needed to complete projects, the plan has run into problems.

Australia's SBS Radio WA correspondent explained why the state government was being forced to consider abandoning construction projects:

"We can't deliver on our capital works programmes unless we have the workers to deliver them, so some of those may have to go on hold," he said.

"It's a very serious problem that is showing up in all kinds of industries and the Government wants more skilled workers from overseas here in a way that is faster than what they can get now.

"For example, there's a need for about 2,000 workers to do prefabrication work as part of the North-West Shelf infrastructure. Because there's not enough skilled workers to do that prefabrication work here it's about to be decided that that work will be done in the Philippines. The raw material will be exported and then imported back as a finished product, so none of the work will be done here.

"That's a way of getting the work done but some industry leaders are saying 'why not put the jobs here, bring those workers in from the Philippines, build it here so that the benefits go to the local community and we do not have to pay for an import', but to get 2,000 workers here quickly is just a bureaucratic nightmare.

"The WA government is saying that even though we can get workers through the Skilled Migration Programme, let's cut through the red tape and fast track this so we can get skilled workers now because we need them now."

WA State Treasurer Eric Ripper said he could not specify which projects are likely to be shelved, but those that are deemed low priority are most likely to be affected.

Western Australia currently has the lowest unemployment rate in Australia, at just 3.6%, compared to a national rate of 4.9%.

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