Scrap Rinehart’s migration deal, scrap 457 visas
The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on May 29.
* * *
Training for young people and permanent residency for migrant workers: Not the 457 visa rip off!
Socialist Alliance statement May 29, 2012
The announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on May 25 that the Gillard Labor government has struck its first Enterprise Migration Agreement with mining billionaire Gina Rinehart reveals just how eager this government is to serve the mining millionaires.
At the same time thousands of jobs are being lost in manufacturing, construction industries, retail and services. Skilled workers who have lost their jobs through redundancy in the car and steel industries are not finding jobs.
One government after another has stripped training and apprenticeship schemes to the bone, removed compulsory apprentice ratios from awards, de-funded vocational education and training, kept trainee and apprenticeship wages shamefully low, allowed companies (even those with government contracts and handouts) to drop apprenticeship schemes and privatised the institutions like Telstra and the railway workshops that used to provide tradespeople for the whole economy. No wonder there's a skills crisis, the bosses all want a skilled workforce but none of them want to pay for it.
Senator Chris Bowen's statement that 457 visas are essential to ensure that “mega” projects in the resources sector, like the $9.5 billion Roy Hill project “come in on time and within budget” reveals the true agenda of a government which rules on behalf of the mining moguls. Their formula: save on training by bringing in "guest workers". These workers are held over a barrel because they depend on the boss for their visa. There are already plenty of examples of these workers being subject to super-exploitation and being used to put downward pressure on everyone's wages and conditions.
The Labor government should cancel the Roy Hill mine deal.
In his speech to the National Press Club where he announced the EMA, Bowen stated that from 2010 to 2011 there has been an 88% growth in 457 visa applications. He also said that mining represents one-fifth of the 457 visa program, with 40% of these going to Western Australia, 36% more 457 visa lodgements than in the same period last year (as at 31 March).
Bowen also stated that there are currently no limits on the number of 457 visas which can be issued, and that as of March, 88,590 people held 457 visas.
Australia was built by migrants, and the projected expansion in both the mining and offshore oil and gas industries may need workers from both interstate and overseas. But there is no place in this country for a category of second class workers who can be thrown out when bosses don't want them anymore.
The problem is not migrant workers, but the rotten 457 system and other visa rorts the employers get up to. The migrants who made Australia home after the Second World War were given permanent residency with full citizenship rights. They became a vital part of our society and many of them became valuable members of the union movement. That's how it should be today. There is no place for racist blame-the-victim rhetoric.
As long as a temporary visa or "guest worker" system exists, bosses will use it to push down everyone's conditions. The trade union movement should demand that the government scrap the temporary "guest worker" visa system altogether.
To add insult to injury, while skilled workers are being denied permanent residency and desperate refugees are locked up without trial indefinitely, the federal government is establishing a visa category offering a pathway to residency for the rich. All they need is $5 million spare to invest in the Australian economy.
In the immediate term unions need to recruit and organise 457 visa workers to protect them from super exploitation and to maintain industry rates of pay. If they are on union agreements and the same rates and conditions as the rest of the industry, then the bosses' divide-and-rule tactic is neutralised.
Thousands of jobs are being lost in the manufacturing and construction industries, and in retail and services. Skilled workers who have lost their jobs through redundancy in the car and steel industries are not finding jobs. Over decades, one government after another have stripped training and apprenticeship schemes to the bone, has defunded vocational education and training, has kept trainee and apprenticeship wages at levels which are shamefully low and have allowed companies (even those with government contracts and handouts) to drop apprenticeship schemes.
Gary Gray in defending the government's decision, told ABC's Lateline on May 25, "As you start building you may discover you need this particular welding skill or that particular scaffolding skill, that needs to be on hand and available right now," he said. Yet, according to the federal government's own Job Outlook website, unemployment for structural steel and welding trades workers is above average, and for scaffolders unemployment levels are high.
We need a restoration of the apprenticeship schemes that have been whittled down by ALP and Liberal-National corporate profits-first governments. Mining corporations and other businesses making super profits should be heavily taxed to pay for apprenticeship and other training programs.
Major resource projects and other significant manufacturing enterprises which profit from the exploitation of local and overseas workers must be forced to sign up to social commitments. These must include union negotiated agreements, apprenticeship ratios, a guarantee of the same rates of pay as that of Australian workers in the worksite and access to permanent residency for any current 457 visa worker. There should also be enforceable employment commitments for Aboriginal people, unemployed youth and skilled workers who have been made redundant.
The social compact struck between the AMWU-CFMEU-ETU-MUA and a number of Aboriginal communities around the country to secure real training and jobs for young Aboriginal people are an example of how this can be done. However if companies engaged in these mega projects refuse to make such commitments they should be be placed under public control.