Australia has a broad and varied labour market. Some parts of it are better educated and more mobile than other parts. It sounds like Tim Le Roy (Crikey comments yesterday) operates in one of the better areas, but he doesn’t cover the full operation of the equally broad and rapidly growing guest worker industry.

At the easy level, try what the relevant department itself sets out under employee’s obligations.

If Section 457 visa workers are sacked, they have 28 days to find another sponsoring employer or they must leave the country. That might not be difficult if the worker is, say, an IT specialist in Sydney. It’s a little different if they’re, say, a machinist carpenter in a regional centre or someone who doesn’t speak English.

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And this is what the government says:

Visa conditions

If the visa application for a temporary visa is approved, the following work condition will be applied to the employee.

The employee must not:

  • stop working for the employer who sponsored them (that is, become unemployed or change employer)
  • work in a different position other than the position that was nominated in the visa application
  • work for another person or for themselves while working for the sponsor.

If an employee wishes to change employer, a new sponsorship and visa application will be required.

There you go – no moonlighting, no self-employment. Doesn’t sound like a free labour market to me.

Tim does concede the possibility that sponsoring employer contracts might bind and limit an employee, but waves that away as being outside the 457 process. First-world international IT specialists might well know that; less worldly workers from developing nations might not – as has been regularly demonstrated.

I’m not sure if Tim thinks it’s “absolute bullsh-t” that wages growth is well below that of company profits, or that the skilled migration program plays a major role in achieving that outcome. I suspect he means the former, an indication he can’t see beyond his own business.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’s effort with the latest national accounts came up with “strong growth in compensation of employees of 7.4%, growth in gross operating surplus (GOS) of Non-financial corporations of 12.1%, growth in GOS of financial corporations of 12.2%”. (The non-farm compensation of employees was slightly higher at 7.5% which came from a 4.6% increase in average earnings and a 2.8% increase in the number of employees.)

You could even go a little further and see that wages’ share of income has really been on the slide this century and is now at its lowest level in 35 years while profits’ share has been rising very nicely indeed. You have to go back 45 years to find anything like it – just before the Credit Squeeze.

But maybe that’s just the ABS running an agenda.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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