Business is reigniting its campaign for reform of 457 visas, declaring it time to dispel “misinformation” about the scheme for skilled foreign workers.
In a move likely to inflame tensions with unions over the 457 visa for temporary skilled migrants, business groups are lining up to say the government should abolish Labor-era labour market testing arrangements in the scheme.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has written to the Productivity Commission saying that labour market testing should be abolished, while the Australian Mines and Metals Association warns the requirements will add red tape.
This comes as employer groups gear up for a separate review of the salary threshold for jobs that can be filled by workers on 457 visas, in the latest inquiry likely to fuel controversy over the scheme.
ACCI has foreshadowed arguing against increasing the income threshold for 457 skilled worker visas beyond inflation and argues that employers in regional areas should be able to hire skilled foreigners on salaries at a discount to the threshold, so long as this was in line with Australian market rates for people in that regional area.
ACCI’s employment, education and training director Jenny Lambert said there was “misinformation” that foreign workers took jobs from Australians.
“That’s the wrong basis to move forward,” she said yesterday.
Kitchen Staff Busy at Work (Pic: Australian Business Review)
The report from the review of the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold is expected by the end of April.
The government agreed to bring forward the review of the threshold —— currently set at $53,900 — under a deal with Labor to end wrangling over the China-Australia free trade pact known as ChAFTA.
As well as looking at the appropriate level for the threshold, the review will look at the roles of indexation and regional concessions for the threshold.
During debate over ChAFTA, Labor had insisted that the threshold be increased to $57,000, but then dropped this push after it was revealed this would price some rural areas out of the scheme.
Ms Lambert said the threshold should stay at its current level, though there were good arguments for indexation to inflation.
But, for regional areas, there was an argument for a discount because of the difference in the metropolitan and regional labour markets.
“The higher you lift the threshold the less businesses and positions would be eligible to have someone come in on a 457. And that creates real economic problems not just for the business who can’t find a skilled worker, but for the regional community who may not have the services available to them because the skilled worker is not available at the price that the region can afford”.
She stressed that employers should not be able to pay foreign staff less than what equivalent Australian workers would be paid in that region.
At the moment, areas hit by skills shortages — such as in the Northern Territory — can seek a “designated area migration agreement”.
Under these agreements, employers can seek concessions of up to 10 per cent below the threshold, so long as the cost of living there is lower than the national average and foreign workers are paid the same as Australians.
But Ms Lambert said that businesses were not guaranteed there would be such agreements covering their some areas.
Meanwhile, ACCI has made a submission to a Productivity Commission review into migration, saying that it disagrees with a draft finding in support of labour market testing because the testing is “akin to asking employers to walk through wet cement”.
AMMA’s executive director, policy and public affairs, Scott Barklamb said that while some highly skilled occupations were exempt from the testing, “resource employers support the abolition of this needless and burdensome requirement”.
A spokesman for the Business Council of Australia said it had “consistently called for labour market testing to be abolished”.