Government “Jumping at Union shadows” over 457 issue

The 457 immigration visas scheme is being unfairly attacked by the Gillard government, according to Master Builders Australia (MBA), with proven cases of people abusing the system limited.

Wilhelm Harnisch, chief executive of the organisation, defended 457 visas following statements from immigration minister Brendan O’Connor on Sunday (April 28th) that new figures show reforms are needed.

“Genuine and proven cases of abuse of the skilled migration system are isolated and employers found guilty of misusing the system should rightly be punished,” he explained.

“Demonising the 457 visa system and the use of foreign workers is not an appropriate policy response.”

Statistics released by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) showed a decline in the growth rates of 457 grants, although Mr O’Connor expressed concern that the number of visas in the lowest-paying skilled jobs had doubled.

However, Mr Harnisch argued there is no new evidence that employers are rorting the system and accused the government of “jumping at union shadows”.

A new ‘genuineness’ criteria and enhanced regulatory powers for DIAC and Fair Work Ombudsman officials has already been introduced, so it would be prudent to see whether these have taken effect before taking a further swipe at the system, he added.

“The unwarranted crackdown is a backward step for productivity and addressing the industry’s future workforce needs,” the CEO continued.

“It will have negative impact on productivity, undermine the right of a business to determine suitability for employment and potentially kill off major projects.”

Master Builders also criticised the proposed use of advertising campaigns attacking 457s in the federal election lead-up, which it said was at odds with the government’s support for the visa scheme in very recent times.

The organisation has outlined its concerns in a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry that is examining the 457 subclass.

According to MBA, there were just 10,000 people in the construction industry who entered the country on 457s last year, a fraction of the one million individuals employed in the sector overall.

“They are certainly not the average tradesperson. They are on an average base salary of $90,000 and more than two-thirds are people in highly skilled roles such as engineers and project managers with unique experience,” Mr Harnisch explained.

Current forecasts show 50,000 more people will be needed to fill construction roles every year for the next decade, he added, making the temporary skilled migration program a vital scheme in addressing these potential gaps.