Train Australians first says Gillard

"I offer absolutely no apology for putting the opportunities of Australian working people first" - PM Julia Gillard
“I offer absolutely no apology for putting the opportunities of Australian working people first” – PM Julia Gillard

The Prime Minister says it is wrong to staff the health sector with overseas workers on temporary visas while neglecting the training of young Australians.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised the widespread and growing use of overseas temporary workers in hospitals and health care.

More needs to be done to train Australians to fill job vacancies in health and other sectors reliant on foreign labour, Ms Gillard said. She told an ACTU conference on job security that Australia has 107,000 overseas temporary workers – 20% more than the same time last year. Employment growth in the same period was only around 1%.

“The number of people coming here to fill short-term gaps should not be growing 20 times faster than employment overall,” she said.

She said the federal government would crack down on abuses of the 457 visa program, which allows employers to import temporary workers for up to four years. She said the crackdown would include measures to:

  • Stop employers paying overseas workers less than local “market rates”.
  • Require employers to prove there is a genuine shortage of local labour before using overseas workers.
  • Raise the English language requirement for getting visas for certain jobs.
  • Strengthen existing requirements to train Australians.
  • Hire more inspectors to enforce rules.

“I offer absolutely no apology for putting the opportunities of Australian working people first, front and centre, wherever they were born,” Ms Gillard said.

She said the use of section 457 visas was growing in industries such as information technology, accommodation, food service and retailing, which should be doing more to train young Australians.

“Most striking of all is the widespread use of temporary skilled labour in hospitals and health,” she said. “There are nearly as many visas in the health sector today as there are in construction: 12,700 temporary workers from overseas have ongoing employment in the health and social care industry in Australia.

“It is absurd to rely on temporary overseas labour to fill ongoing skilled work in public hospitals, while contracted local labour cleans those same hospitals in the middle of the night for around $20 an hour.

“That is an absolutely damning failure of long-term national economic policy. We don’t want to be a nation that can’t care for its own sick and can’t provide jobs for its own kids.”

Ms Gillard said federal Labor governments had succeeded in greatly increasing the numbers of Australians in job training despite the global financial crisis.

“By 2011, 146,000 more students undertook vocational educational training and studies than in 2007. There were 100,000 more apprentices and trainees – and around 35,000 more people with university degrees added a vocational qualification to their skills.”

By contrast, conservative state governments are cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from their training systems, while the federal opposition supports greater reliance on temporary workers from overseas.

“I will fight to keep Australia from going down that path. That is not the future we want for Australia,” the Prime Minister said.