Hot on the heels of the Abbott Government’s decision to relax requirements around 457 ‘temporary’ work visas to make it much easier for Australian businesses to import so-called “skilled” foreign workers, the Government is now also seeking to introduce a “short-term mobility visa”, which would allow employers to hire specialised workers for up to 12 months.
As reported in The Guardian and The SMH today, the new class of visa has been proposed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), and according to the ACTU would “seek to remove key current safeguards such as labour market testing (LMT), as well as English language and skill requirements from certain visa types”.
The ACTU is rightly scathing of the proposed new visa class, arguing that there were already 1.1 million temporary visa-holders in Australia as of last September – an increase of more than 28,000, or 2.6%, in a year:
“This proposal may align with the wish list of certain employers, but it is not in the interest of Australian or overseas workers”…
[DIBP] had failed to explain “how deregulating work visas will benefit the large number of Australian workers without jobs”, including those unable to secure apprenticeships and university graduates facing a depressed job market.
However, Assistant Immigration and Border Protection Minister, Michaelia Cash, has countered that the skilled migration program was aimed at plugging skill shortages, and strongly disputed union claims that Australian jobs were under threat:
“It is essential in restoring growth in the economy. It is essential in lifting our productivity.”
Perhaps Senator Cash should refer to the Department of Employment’s latest Skill Shortages Statistical Summary, released last week, which revealed that “the availability of skilled workers is greater than it has been since the current series began in 2007, and fewer occupations are in shortage”?
According to the report:
There are generally large fields of applicants vying for skilled jobs and employers fill a high proportion of their vacancies… Almost all employers attract applicants, with just 4 per cent not receiving any interest in their vacancies…
Put simply, where is the evidence of a pervasive skills shortage that warrants the further relaxation of temporary skilled working visas?
It is entirely the wrong time to for the Abbott Government to be pursuing such a policy, given Australia’s stubbornly high unemployment (particularly youth unemployment), which is likely to worsen as mining investment unwinds, the local car industry closes, and the current housing construction boom-let subsides.
Given such an economic environment, why on earth should the visa system make it even easier to import labour from offshore rather than training local workers, potentially adding to the pool of under/unemployed and depriving our youth of employment opportunities?
Sure, Australia needs to improve its competitiveness. However, this should be achieved via a process of real exchange rate depreciation, which protects the vulnerable and encourages workforce participation by locals, boosting productivity.
Simply importing labour to keep wages down and to disguise the economic adjustment by maintaining the throttle on population growth (reducing all Australians cut of the economic pie in the process) is short-sighted and dirty policy.