Apr 19, 2017

The 457 ways to keep foreign workers while pandering to racists

Under the pretence of abolishing a catalyst for xenophobic populism, Malcolm Turnbull is leaving a mostly successful skilled migration program intact.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

If you’re going to hit the panic button, it helps if that button actually achieves something and does it effectively. What’s surprising about yesterday’s 457 visa “abolition” announcement from the government is that it stands a relatively good chance of achieving its political goal, while having minimal impact on the economy.

It is, of course, a profound act of hypocrisy from Turnbull and the rest of his party. When Julia Gillard started the bashing of foreign workers back in 2013 by making changes to the 457 system, Turnbull, like his colleagues, defended them to the hilt as you’d expect the stout tribunes of the business sector to do. But nearly four years later, the visas have “lost credibility” — even though the Coalition has been in government for all but six months of the intervening period. Moreover, while the system was apparently working sufficiently well in 2013 that there was no need for significant change, it now turns out that Bill Shorten had by that time — at least according to Turnbull — opened the floodgates. It’s all very like the middle-class welfare cuts the Liberals denounced when in opposition — but once in government, they went much further. Or, at least, that’s what they want voters to think.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

47 thoughts on “The 457 ways to keep foreign workers while pandering to racists

  1. cairns50

    your dead set wrong saying anybody who opposes 457 visas is racist, these visas have been used by employers to import cheap foreign scab labour
    employment in australia should be for australian CITIZENS , it does not matter whether they were born here or came here as migrants, they simply should be for Aust Citizens or for people with permanent residency, not to be used by corrupt employers so they can pay cheap scab labour rates at the expense of aust citizens

    1. federali

      the Department won’t grant a visa unless substancial proof is provided that the visa applicant will be paid a market salary rate equivalent to an Australian. The easiest way to prove this is simply to provide evidence of what a current equivalent Australian employee in that business is getting paid. If the visa holder is then subsequently underpaid then that is a matter for the FWO to take action against the employer. It appears that most Australians are probably too lazy to do certain jobs anymore e.g. cooks and chefs – the hospitality sector is crying out for workers but Australians dont want to give up there weekend nights.

      1. Bob the builder

        If this proof is ever actually required, why then have there been constant and credible stories of widespread rorting of this visa?
        The bludgers in the hospitality sector who want to make big bucks but keep bugger-all for their workers are only exceeded in odiousness by the wealthy (who would never stoop to such work themselves) who expect to wine and dine whenever they want for as cheap as possible.
        Anyone outside of the wealthy urban elite with their eyes open would have stories of non-citizen workers getting ripped off by unethical Australian employers. It’s rampant, and not restricted to 457 visas, and it should be prosecuted.

        1. federali

          thats why the FWO needs more funding to combat that, but the proposed changes are likely to make things worse. The more insecure a temporary visa worker is the less likely they are to complain.

      2. old greybearded one

        It seems to me that this is nonsense. There are many jobs which Australians cannot get, but which are on the list. Cooks be stuffed. A top line managing chef, maybe. The issue of wages rorts has NOT been addressed by the FWO, by unions, yes. The other point is that these dishonest businesses are sending honest ones broke by gaining an unfair advantage. Where is the independent “work test?”

    2. Saugoof

      …and that’s exactly the sort of ill-informed comment that is the reason the government is making a change, that isn’t really a change but looks like it is.

    3. Stuart Coyle

      In the industry I work in (software development) there are no where near enough Australian citizens with the skills we need. Cairns50 do you prefer that we send all our work offshore than bring in a few bright people from overseas to fill our vacancies?

      1. federali

        who help train and transfer skills to Australians, with most becoming Australians themselves down the track…

        1. bushby jane

          Won’t be allowed to any more, one of dutton’s nasty bits added on…

      2. Damien

        “There are no where near enough Australian citizens with the skills we need”
        Or is that:
        “There are nowhere near enough Australian citizens who will work for far less than the starting salary of an Australian IT graduate”

        1. Marion Wilson

          Why does Australia not have people with the skills necessary . Is it because many able students can’t afford to get the qualifications that are essential to bring Australia into the 21st century? Why is it that so many of the politicians who had Whitlam’s free university education seem to think that education is a private benefit and should be paid for by the individual? Not even British nationals like Tony Abbott had to pay. If we can pay for submarines we can sent all capable students to university without financial distress.

    4. John

      Have to agree with Cairns50, Bernard. These visas should be limited to ultra high-skilled, essential roles. I.e: Not cooks!!

    5. Draco Houston

      BK is a huge centrist and won’t hear anything against the god Reform!.

      I’ll go a step further to prove your point: I don’t like the 457 program or this new one because it creates an underclass of foreign slaves without full work rights, stealing their wages and making things worse for everyone but the business owner.

      1. Bob the builder

        Yeah. If you can pay the overheads of bringing someone from overseas and yet they’re still cheaper than local workers, then someone’s losing out and it’s definitely not the boss or the middleman!

  2. Terry of Tuggeranong

    Could someone please explain for me the reason there are so many Taxi drivers of Indian background at the Rank in Kingston in the ACT?? Is there a shortage of Taxi drivers in Australia?

    1. federali

      because its a shitty job that most people dont want to do anymore? Take an Uber instead.

    2. Bob the builder

      Because the big taxi companies have been tightening the screws for years and now it’s hard to make a decent living driving taxis. Only the desperate will take it – not a matter of bludgeing Australian workers, but of bludger bosses who want more and more of the pie.

      1. old greybearded one

        Because Sri Lankan and Indian drivers speak decent English mostly.

    3. johnb78

      Taxi drivers will generally have migrated as family members, students or refugees – it’s not a job that you can get either a 457 or permanent residency visa for (obviously), just an entirely basic job which you can do even if your English is bad and you don’t have any other marketable skills.

  3. Dog's Breakfast

    Sure BK, it is bullshit in that while ‘abolishing’ 457’s they created a new class of visa, so the effect is really just to regulate somewhat more effectively the Harbour Bridge wide gap in immigration rorting.

    But it is hardly racist to insist that your children should be given jobs in preference to imported labour. No country allows open slather, but ours was as close as any. This was being rorted a mile high and wide, and was used by companies to avoid training responsibilities and to pay below real market wages.

    Even in IT and hospitality, it is impossible to believe that the market wasn’t being constantly rorted by 457’s. Graduates and highly experienced locals have enormous difficulty getting work in their trained profession, primarily because they can fill jobs by a very cavalier approach to ‘labour-market testing’. Any such tests worth their salt would have to be accompanied by training commitments to local labour, but they never are.

    As for hospitality, given that every second show on TV is about budding chefs, and that the job is very much something that can be learned on the job, I fail to see how we could be short of chefs. Oh, except for the fact that they are paid shite wages and work unbelievable hours, many of them not recompensed appropriately.

    Your headline writer is wrong to suggest this is racist.

  4. Catey Baxter

    Tell Australian nursing graduates who can’t find jobs because of the employment of overseas trained nurses on 457 visas that the system is fair. According to Bernard Keane medical professions will remain on the list. I am not racist and believe overseas worker immigration has been designed and encouraged over the years by Coalition Governments to reduce wages.

    1. Dion Giles

      Next step is to end free trade deals with slave countries so slavery isn’t imported with their el cheapo tariff-free goods.

    2. Susan Anderson

      Precisely, I work in IT and was unemployed for 15 months because of the high number of foreign workers who would accept lower wages, I know this because eventually I got a job working with some of them, they get off planes and are almost immediately employed doing something alot of young Australians could easily be trained to do.
      Its ridiculous to call everyone who has a problem with this a racist, get out more Bernard you dont know what youre talking about

  5. klewso

    No one does hypocrisy quite like Malcolm – he can make it seem a virtue.

  6. Dion Giles

    “Dog’s Breakfast” is bang-on. As someone who has long made it a quasi-religious principle to put the Liberals last on the ballot paper I find myself highly enthusiastic about these changes that restore the eroded principle that jobs for Australians in Australia must come first (provided the Aussie appointees can cut the mustard) and to hell with the Indian Government’s protests. Makes me want to shake Potato Head’s hand – I would’na thunk it!

    1. Damien

      Always read the fine print.

  7. Woopwoop

    The part I’m wondering about is the better English language skills. Administering language tests is expensive and time-consuming. Who will do the tests, and who will pay for it?
    Similarly with criminal background checks. Do all countries do these?

    1. johnb78

      The costs of all of these will be borne by the migrant or their employer, as they are currently for employer-sponsored permanent migrants.

    2. Tony Foot

      No problem there!
      Simply follow the practice used by the shifty shonkies when privatising”the “training sector”.
      A privatised skills and language testing sector. Government subsidies, up front “fees” from the applicant, ongoing fees and charges for materials during “testing” and a percentage of the income of the applicant for the next five years, for a guaranteed pass.
      No Australians, unless of the same ethnic background, need apply for a testing licence as the testers would be required to have the same language as the applicant to be fair in their assessment.
      Secondly the Indian Government should keep it’s nose out of Australia’s internal affairs.

  8. Xoanon

    There’s an article in The Age today with Lygon Street restaurateurs bemoaning the fact that they’ll no longer be able to staff their entire restaurant with young Italians, partly for the atmosphere conveyed by the Italian accent. That must be one of the weakest arguments for the 457 visa I’ve ever heard; no doubt locals could do those jobs just as well.

    Turnbull’s changes are largely shallow and ineffective (like everything his government does), but I think there’s a real case to be made againt the 457 from the left. It’s been rorted by local businesses who want compliant, underpaid staff they don’t have to train. Unfortunately these changes won’t much help, if the labour market testing isn’t carried out by an independent body.

    1. johnb78

      “That must be one of the weakest arguments for the 457 visa I’ve ever heard”
      Not sure it’s all that weak – if I went into, say, a Chinese restaurant and all the staff were Anglo I’d turn around and walk straight out again, because I’d reasonably expect the food to be awful. Doesn’t apply quite as strongly for an Italian joint, but definitely would have some impact on how diners perceived the place.
      Maybe the compromise is to provide young Aussie waiting staff with dialect coaching as part of the training process…

      1. Draco Houston

        That’s really, really weird John.

      2. old greybearded one

        Plenty of Australian Chinese.

      3. Yclept

        I frequent a chinese retaurant that has great food and all the wait staff are Aussies.

    2. bushby jane

      Independent labour market testing was apparently the first recommendation of their review, but not taken up.

    3. Stuart Coyle

      Given the vast difference in ability and attitude between Australian wait staff and European wait staff I have no wonder why they want to employ Italians.

  9. phonakins

    Homeopaths? Well, THEY can go back to where they came from

  10. johnb78

    I think Bernard is about right regarding the business impact. One point he misses is that the new iteration of the scheme creates a class of workers who’ll *never* be settled in Australia (whereas most current 457 holders use the visa as a path to permanent residency), thereby cementing their status as inferiors who companies can get away with mistreating.

    1. Draco Houston

      This was the actual problem with the 457 program, so basically they’ve just made it worse. We don’t need an underclass of slaves. Give the migrants full worker rights and the same wages and the problem will magically disappear.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details