Back in August I warned that the Morrison Government’s new Agricultural Visa would usher an “immigration scab grab”, with other sectors of the Australian economy likely to step up and demand similar access to industry-specific visas under the guise of ‘skills shortages’:
You could easily imagine a situation where the Morrison Government introduces a new ‘Serving Australia’ hospitality visa, a new ‘Building Australia’ construction and engineering visa, a new ‘Caring Australia’ health and aged care visa, or any other industry manifestation.
After all, the parliamentary migration committee this month recommended a pathway to permanent residency for all migrant workers who come to Australia on temporary skill visas.
So brace yourself for a flood of industry migration deals. The great immigration scab grab has begun.
Since then we have witnessed Infrastructure Partnerships Australia CEO Adrian Dwyer call on the federal government to introduce a dedicated visa for the infrastructure sector. We have also witnessed the hospitality industry demand 100,000 special visas.
Now aged care providers have joined the scab grab, demanding the federal government create a special visa to bring workers from overseas:
The Australian Aged Care Collaboration, which represents more than 1000 providers caring for a million elderly Australians, has written to Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck demanding a “dedicated aged care skilled migration program”.
“We need the barriers to migration to be lifted,” Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler, who co-signed the letter, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age…
Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said a targeted skilled migration program specific to the sector was needed “to enable us to recruit suitably skilled and qualified people”.
Unions have hit back, however, calling for the poor wages and conditions in the sector to be fixed to encourage local workers:
Health Service Union national president Gerard Hayes said… “providers are more interested in importing workers on temporary visas than lifting wages.”
Aged Care Workforce Industry Council chief executive Louise O’Neill agrees with the union:
“Getting the wages right is going to be fundamental to growing the sector,” Ms O’Neill said.
“Aged care suffers from a negative image, yet it’s a massive industry.”
As does Professor Kathy Eagar, director of the University of Wollongong’s Australian Health Services Research Institute:
[Eagar] said the industry’s high turnover rate was due to “poor pay and conditions” and creating a special visa “will just put a Band-Aid” on the problem.
“This is a workforce we shouldn’t have to import,” Professor Eagar said. “In the long term, we need to improve the attraction and retention of aged care workers in Australia.”
She said aged care workers earned less than they would at a supermarket checkout.
Just like the hospitality industry, aged care providers have become far too used to exploiting migrant labour through low wages. To break this cycle, first put up the wages, then see how many migrants are needed to fill “shortages”.
When industries say they need to import labour to avert “skills shortages”, it usually means those jobs are border-line slave labour.
Farming, hospitality, aged care – the story is the same. Offer decent pay and conditions, alongside some modest training, and so-called “labour shortages” will evaporate overnight.
There is no shortage of workers, only a shortage of wages. It is a labour “market” after all. Let the “market” do its job to solve shortages by bidding up wages.
Or do we only believe in the “market” when it enriches the capitalists at the expense of workers?