The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Maritime Officer's Union (AMOU) have hailed a High Court victory that will protect local jobs on offshore oil and gas projects and curb the exploitation of foreign workers.
The High Court unanimously ruled on August 31 against the federal government's decision to exempt workers on vessels in the offshore oil and gas industry from visa requirements. The unions argued that the exemptions provided an incentive for companies to hire foreigners on lower wages and undercut safety standards and conditions.
The court found the immigration minister had exceeded his authority by exercising unrestrained powers. The decision means foreign workers will need visas and Australian pay and conditions will apply.
Slater and Gordon lawyer Kathryn Presdee said the legal issue arose after the government redefined Australia's migration zone as part of the Pacific Solution.
“Thousands of islands were removed and the migration zone was brought back to the shoreline to limit areas that could be landed upon or entered and then legitimately used for claims of asylum,” Presdee said.
The combined maritime unions took then assistant immigration minister Michaelia Cash to the Federal Court in 2014 after she began exercising an executive power to exempt companies from obtaining visas for their employees, because they technically did not need to enter Australian territory to work on offshore workplaces.
Presdee said the minister's decision to exempt offshore resource companies from the visa requirement had subverted the Migration Act and encouraged the hiring of overseas workers.
“We welcome the High Court of Australia's decision today which confirmed the minister's exercise of power in this instance was invalid and effectively overriding the will of parliament,” Presdee said.
Speaking outside the High Court in Canberra, MUA deputy national secretary Will Tracey said: "Today is a fantastic day that again has reinforced and confirmed our right to work in our industry.
"The High Court has backed the rights of seafarers today and should also send a signal to the Australian government, Michaelia Cash and Peter Dutton in particular, that they should listen to the will of the Senate, the courts and the people."
MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was optimistic the court would see through the blatant skullduggery and legislative trickery the Abbott/Turnbull government had used to ignore the Senate and the Federal Court.
“Unions watched the matter very closely because it was a blatant attack on Australians' rights to work in their own country,” Crumlin said.