28 July 2008

Unions to vet employers in temporary workers program

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Changes to the skilled temporary (subclass 457) visa may require stakeholders, including unions, to check employers who hire temporary overseas workers, reports The Age.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) submitted a proposal to the government with suggestions on how to improve the current 457 visa program.  The CFMEU proposed stakeholders and unions should be allowed to vet employers who take part in the program to ensure workers’ rights are not being undercut.

Senator Chris Ellison, spokesman for the opposition government, said the changes will only cause disruption to the scheme.  He added, "Where Australian labour is not available it is critical that employers are able to access skilled overseas labour", and involvement from stakeholders will only cause unnecessary and damaging delays for businesses.

The Master Builders Australia (MBA) agreed with Senator Ellison, saying the changes are not necessarrily improvements to the system.  MBA Chief Executive Wilhelm Harnisch added, "There are already strict requirements placed on sponsoring employers, the most stringent of any of the 400 series visa sub-classes.  We have every confidence in the government and the department to manage the eligibility and compliance aspects of the 457 visas."

Recently, the Government amended the temporary workers program so that the rights and conditions of lower-skilled workers are protected from abuse from their employers.  "Although incidents of migrant worker exploitation are the exception rather than the rule, the Government is moving to improve the protections in place to prevent exploitation of temporary skilled workers from overseas," Senator Chris Evans said.

Senator Evans also praised the Government for successfully running the Australian skilled migration program, announcing the number of 457 visa grants increased by 27 per cent this year to 110,570 visas.  UK nationals make up the largest group of foreign workers in Australia, comprising a quarter of all temporary workers in the same period.  The average nominated base salary is currently sitting at $73,100, with IT professionals, nurses, and business professionals dominating the 457 visa scheme.   

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people apply for an Australia visa.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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