Foreign workers exploited: locals left out of work

"Under a Coalition government, section 457 visas won't be just a component, but a mainstay of our immigration program."
“Under a Coalition government, section 457 visas won’t be just a component, but a mainstay of our immigration program.”

On the issue of imported workers on temporary visas, Labor has tightened controls while the Coalition wants to make temporary overseas workers a “mainstay”.Under recently introduced changes to laws governing the use of 457 temporary (skilled) work visas, employers must prove they have advertised and tried to employ locals before recruiting overseas workers to fill positions.

The 457 visa is designed to allow employers to import workers, including nurses and midwives, to fill vacancies for “skilled” jobs for up to four years.

Earlier this year then Prime Minister Julia Gillard criticised the widespread and growing use of foreign temporary workers in hospitals and health care and said more needed to be done to train Australians to fill job vacancies.

“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,” she said.

Other changes Labor made to the law surrounding 457 visas were designed to:

  • Stop employers paying foreign workers less than local “market rates”.
  • Raise the English language requirement for getting visas for certain jobs.
  • Strengthen existing requirements to train Australians.
  • Hire more inspectors to enforce rules.

The NSWNMA welcomed the amendments, in the context of continuing underemployment of local graduates. General Secretary Brett Holmes says some overseas workers are needed to fill skill shortages, but local workers, graduates and apprentices should not be left behind without jobs and training.

“Employers should not object to having to train and employ locals first, before bringing in workers from overseas,” he said.

However some employers in the health care sector, such as Catholic Health Australia, have called for the 457-visa program to be extended to lower-skilled categories such as Enrolled Nurses.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised his business supporters that a Coalition government will make it easier for temporary workers to enter Australia.

“Under a Coalition government, section 457 visas won’t be just a component, but a mainstay of our immigration program,” Mr Abbott said in a speech delivered to the Institute of Public Affairs on 27 April 2012.

Media reports revealed that employers have used the 457 scheme to underpay workers (as little as $3 an hour); to force workers to take fatal risks; to force workers to pay for overcrowded, unsanitary accommodation; and to coerce workers with threats of violence, the sack and deportation.

Stories in Fairfax Media also revealed that hundreds of foreign workers and students were being forced into debt bondage after paying up to $40,000 for an Australian skilled worker visa.

Brett Holmes says these reports show that approved migrants on temporary work visas should receive the same level of union protection and service as Australians. He said the NSWNMA had signed up and supported a number of foreign nurses employed on 457 temporary visas.