The national secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), Dan Walton, penned an article in The AFR attacking Australia’s “human centipede” approach to immigration. Walton has called for employers who recruit migrant workers to be required to provide a traineeship or apprenticeship for a local worker in the same role, or to contribute to a pool of funding to train Australians for such a role.
Walton also wants “strict labour market testing” alongside “default union membership for all migrants”:
Australian jobs should be filled by Australians wherever possible…
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The gaping hole in Australia’s skilled workforce… has been gently teased open since the turn of the century, when employers began persuading governments to free them of their traditional responsibility to take on apprentices and trainees…
And, lo and behold, skills gaps started to open across the land. So what did we do in response?
We gave new rights to employers to throw their drift nets out into the world, scooping up workers from anywhere and getting visas to bring them to work in Australia, generally as guests… It’s a human centipede policy approach…
I want to bring to the Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ jobs and skills summit: a plan for a compact in the spirit of the Prices and Incomes Accord of the Hawke-Keating government of the 1980s.
Through this compact, Australian businesses would have access to sponsored skilled migration to support their workforce – provided they adhere to strict labour market testing.
And for every skilled migrant they employ, they should be required to co-invest in domestic skills development. They could do this on a one-to-one basis. For every skilled migrant they employ, they take on one local trainee or apprentice. Or, if that’s not practical for them, they could contribute a training levy payment into a pool to upskill locals.
A good deal would need to go significantly beyond the existing Skilling Australians Fund by increasing the minimum contribution, now less than $5000 a worker, to at least $10,000 a worker.
The deal would also need to ensure the funds are targeted to training in the industries where sponsored migrants are used. Right now, no one actually knows where the money funnelled into the SAF goes or how it’s spent…
I believe in a bigger Australia so long as it’s also a smarter country.
While Walton’s proposal would be an improvement on the status quo, it misses the main issue: that ‘skilled visa’ workers are generally low-paid, thereby undermining the pay and conditions of local workers.
Instead of worrying about “strict labour market testing”, which is always gamed, unions should instead focus on ensuring that the minimum salary threshold for all skilled migrants is lifted above the median full-time salary of $83,000.
Currently 60% of temporary ‘skilled’ visas are issued below the median full time salary, due to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) being set at the appallingly low level of $53,900.
Setting the threshold above the median full-time salary, and applying it to both the temporary and permanent skilled visa system, would end low-wage ‘skilled’ immigration. It would ensure that businesses only hire migrant workers to fill genuinely skilled positions. And it would maximise benefits to the federal budget and economy.
Walton’s support for a “bigger Australia” is also disappointing. Where will the millions of new migrants live amid Australia’s chronic rental and social housing shortage? And how will Australia possibly meet its emissions reduction targets when it continually grows the number of energy users and consumers by hundreds of thousands every year?
As usual, the downsides of ‘Big Australia’ on livability and the environment are ignored.