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Nov 15, 2016

Protectionism turns its ugly gaze on 457 visas

Foreign workers are now in the firing line as both Labor and the far right move to target 457 visas in the protectionist surge.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Malcolm Turnbull

Suddenly 457 visas are back on the political agenda in a big way, with Labor today unveiling a set of “reform” proposals to make it harder and more expensive for businesses to use foreign workers. And Australian businesses have only themselves to blame.

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34 thoughts on “Protectionism turns its ugly gaze on 457 visas

  1. JimDocker

    I am far from the ‘Fuck off, we’re full brigade’, but 457 visas are a problem. I am more from the ‘Bring them here’ set.

    I employ people as needed. Generally full time and whatever nationality. I have in the past sponsored one Irishman in boom conditions and no tradesmen were to be found. Right now, with many tradespeople out of work, several companies in my field are simple filling their factories full of cheap foreign labour. No apprenticeships being offered in those places and prices are unsustainable.

    I have no problem with the concept of 457 visas, but the original idea of filling difficult to fill positions is not being adhered to.

  2. Tesenka Mai

    Keane slipping in a jab at submarine building every issue

  3. Andrew Seeze

    The 457 visas have their place when the right context and conditions present themselves. But to continue them in Australia unabated with rising unemployment is just plain lunacy.

    1. Inner Space

      For once I agree with Lib/Lab. The need to protect vital industries which sustains employment in this country is absolutely essential. I can understand the need for the 457 visas when necessary but anything after that is pointless and serving a strange and very foreign agenda.

  4. wilful

    Knowing how many 457 visas are issued its hardly a radical policy!

  5. Nicholas

    Allowing employers to rort the skilled migration program is stupid. Maintaining such a large skilled migration program when we should be training and creating jobs for the two million Australians whose desires to work are not being met is obscene. Bernard Keane’s blind obedience to neoliberal dogma is the same basic problem that has reduced the Democratic Party to a smoking heap of rubble.

  6. Dog's Breakfast

    It’s not protectionism to protect employment for nationals. No country allow foreign workers will-nilly, nor should they. Our 457s have been rorted royally.

    The worst of the impact, as others point out, is that companies use it as an excuse to bring in skilled migration rather than skill up local workers, most particularly in the trades, which we will need desperately in the future. Plumbing, electricals, carpentry and building are skills we will always need. Why are companies not required to employ apprentices as a percentage of their workforce before they are allowed to employ foreign workers.

    And although the mining industry often has a good case for 457’s, perhaps we shouldn’t just freely allow foreign workers to help us exploit our common wealth without ensuring they are giving back at the same time. If a company just comes in, takes our mineral wealth, pays bugger all taxes and royalties (north west shelf anyone) and doesn’t leave us with a skilled workforce, what do we gain exactly?

    Keeping track of who and where the 457’s are being issued would be a good start. In fact it should be publicly available information, by trade and sector. It’s not a big ask.

    Always, the question should be what is Australia’s gain. Equally, we shouldn’t be tapping the educated from developing countries just because we can. That is equally iniquitous.

    Stop the rorts, to coin a phrase.

  7. [email protected]

    Bernard Keane is completely missing the point if he thinks “protectionism ” is behind the very serious concerns about the misuse of 457, 416 and student visa holders in Australia. Those of us who have been quietly working to get something done for the past three or more years will be pleased that finally action is being taken. 7Eleven and Caltex are simply the tip of a very ugly iceberg involving the construction industry, the food processing industry, the tertiary education system along with agriculture and its associated industries. Not all companies or individuals in those sectors are abusing their workers but far too many are and many of them are foreign owned companies. The serious abuses in the areas of wages, accommodation, and visa renewals must stop. The role of organised crime gangs with connections to the Immigration Department must also be investigated. In addition the foolish duplicity of the federal Government’s proposed “new” backpacker tax system must also be seen for what it is – an inept attempt to try and attain the same revenue stream through the back door. Taxing seasonal workers at 19 cents from the first dollar earned, plus taxing the farmer by making he/she pay 9.5% Super for each worker and then the government keeping it when they leave the country, plus the additional $5 travel departure tax, will only hurt farmers even more and ensure that seasonal workers go to other countries for their working holidays. Most farms use local labor throughout the year but need additional labor short-term at harvest time. The number of seasonal workers visiting Australia has dropped by 40% in the past 18 months and some farmers have already been forced to abandon harvesting some of their crops because of labor shortages – leading to higher prices for key fresh food products. Regional rural communities which currently enjoy the short-term economic benefits these workers bring, as well as the tourism hot spots where they spend the most of their time, are infuriated by the government’s apparent disdain for the impact this proposal would have. The Senate was right to act.

  8. Helen Ashman

    Dear Crikey, can you please do us an ongoing question-and-answer dialogue about protectionism? I don’t understand why Bernard Keane is anti-protectionist, nor why 457s are good.

    Here are a few starter questions:
    1) If 457s are allowed to continue as they are, where are the jobs for locals? What is their income stream?
    2) If “employers … genuinely can’t find the local skilled labour”, will not employing 457s only perpetuate the problem?
    3) If we don’t train locals in the needed skills, do we then become dependent upon a steady supply of international workers? How does this impact our sovereignty, national security and independence?

    Economists spend a lot of time thinking about money, but often overlook the human cost, as well as the sovereignty, national security and independence. No doubt other people think only about the human cost and forget to consider the economic impacts (certain politicians spring to mind). It would be very helpful to have answers to these and other questions that consider all the impacts of 457s and protectionism.

  9. David Irving (no relation)

    You’re wrong, Bernard. The 457 scheme has always been rorted.

    Before I retired, I was a computer programmer. I can clearly remember being annoyed by claims that mine was an occupation with too few Australians available at times when I was unable to find work. It’s more that employers couldn’t find people prepared to work for low wages.

    While it’s true that there are sometimes genuine shortages in particular trades and other skilled occupations, that’s largely because the Australian business community generally has abrogated its responsibility to train people for its future requirements. Too many members of the AIG are parasites, unwilling to pay the true costs of labour, instead preferring to poach workers from other countries.

    1. Andrew Seeze

      The truth behind unmeasured immigration has and will always be, a cheaper labour market. The big end of town always licks their lips when their well lobbied and well funded politician mates curtsy and kowtow to the program. Nothing will ever convince me differently.

    2. lethell

      Also, of course, privatisation of publicly owned utilities which trained vast numbers of tradespeopleto a high standard, has contributed to a shortage of skilled workers. Business in the end cares for little besides profit and its unwillingness to train workers was completely foreseeable. When exacerbated by the rorts made possible by the outsourcing of training and the destruction of TAFE, the sheer stupidity of a policy of privatisation of public goods is blatantly obvious. It amounts to no more than kleptocracy on a grand scale, stealing from past and future generations for the sake of the short term enrichment of the few.

  10. Fred Bloggs

    Have a look at that list – with current youth unemployment levels, there is no way in hell we should be importing ‘skilled’ labour to work as painters, tilers and plasterers.
    There are a bunch of others on the list that point out the need to reform the delivery of technical trades training away from the terribly (also rorted) vocational training schemes.
    At least now we’ve taken the cooks and hairdressers off the list.

    We’re heading over the capex cliff from the mining boom, the LNG projects are all done, the apartment construction boom will start to taper off.

    We’ve done precious little to revive a productive economy that was hollowed out by 15 years of houses and holes.

    Thinking that the 457 program has more holes than a Malcolm Roberts theory has nothing to do with xenophobia.

    1. Michael Williams

      I’ve had friends in the UK with engineering degrees and decades of experience ask what it is that blocks them from entry into Australia whereas someone with a few months of haircutting goes to the top of the queue.

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