The federal government has announced its approval of the first ever Enterprise Migration Agreement which will see more than 1,715 foreign workers enter the country on 457 visas to fill jobs on an iron-ore project in Western Australia.
The workers will be employed for the construction stage of Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hills iron ore project in the Pilbara, but the agreement has sparked outrage that skilled Australians are being overlooked.
The Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen has defended the approval of the historic agreement: “The Government's first priority is always ensuring jobs for Australian workers,” he said in a statement issued on Friday. “But there is a need for temporary workers to help keep our economy strong. With more than 8,000 workers required during the construction phase of the Roy Hill project, there simply aren't enough people in the local workforce to get the job done,” Bowen said.
Key points of the agreement include:
2,000 training places will be set aside for Australians, and this includes places for more than 200 Australian apprentices and trainees, as well as preparing over 100 Indigenous Australians to work in the construction industry.
Foreign workers are only recruited after genuine efforts to first employ Australians, and visa holders engaged on the project receive the same wages and conditions as their Australian counterparts.
A jobs board will be established to ensure that foreign workers are only recruited after genuine efforts to first employ Australians.
The government will also ensure that visa holders are aware of their workplace rights and obligations through a specific induction program, as well as having information available in writing, online and through video presentations.
While at this stage the agreement has been announced as a one-off, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson hinted that more agreements may be on the way. “The Government is introducing Regional Migration Agreements and Enterprise Migration Agreements to enable resources projects to access overseas workers when vacancies can't be filled locally,” Ferguson added. “They have been introduced to ensure peak workforce needs are met, to ease capacity constraints and ensure the full benefits of major projects can be realised,” he said.
Yet the agreement has sparked an angry response from unions, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) rejected the move as “reprehensible”. “We’re being told on one hand that there are not enough workers to fill the needs and yet every day union officials are out there dealing with job losses,” Dave Oliver from the ACTU said. However, according to one peak mining body, finding mining sector workers is no easy task, and the unions have glazed over the fact that Australia simply does not have enough workers skilled in the right trades for mining. The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief Simon Bennison said Australians may be putting their hands up for jobs, but many are unwilling to relocate or work fly in fly out, cannot start straight away, and critically, do not have the right skills and experience to work in the field.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised no Australian worker would miss out on a job as a result of the government’s decision to allow the importation of workers for the project.