Abbott Government Fails In Bid To Allow Cheap Foreign Labour In Offshore Oil and Gas Sector

The Abbott Government’s ongoing efforts to undermine Australian jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector suffered a setback today when the Federal Court rejected its underhand means of deploying visas for foreign workers.

The Full Court of the Federal Court declared that the Ministerial Determination ('Immi 14/077') introduced by Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash on July 17, 2014 “is not authorised … and is invalid”.
“The Parliament’s intention was to confer upon the Minister a power to except or exempt particular activities or operations carried out under the Offshore Petroleum Act or Offshore Minerals Act, not to reverse the Parliament’s desire and intention to bring within the [Migration] Act non-citizens who are engaged in operations and activities under the Offshore Petroleum Act or the Offshore Minerals Act.” : see Judgment at [73].
The Abbott Government has taken three significant steps to undermine Australian participation in offshore oil and gas projects. It has:    

  • Introduced a Bill to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013 (ORA ACT) that was passed by the Parliament in 2013 to address a flaw in Australia's migration law following a Federal Court judgment in the Allseas case that found certain groups of workers were not within the migration zone and did not require visas to work in Australia.
  • Introduced a Regulation under the ORA Act that specified an inappropriate visa class as a work visa to conform with the ORA Act (the Maritime Crew Visa, which is a transit visa for visiting international seafarers, not a work visa) and;  
  • When the Senate rightly disallowed the regulation specifying that visa, introduced a Ministerial Determination ('Immi 14/077') effectively making the ORA Act null and void in complete disregard to the wishes of the Parliament.Following the decision of Justice Buchanan of the Federal Court on 15 September 2014 which validated the use by the Government of Ministerial Determination 'Immi 14/077', the MUA and AMOU appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Federal Court. 

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the decision today means that hundreds of jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector are in doubt and it’s not as if the Government hasn’t had time to prepare.
"The Abbott Government has clearly outlined their agenda for employment in this important segment of our economy without regard to existing employment law or consequence,” Mr Crumlin said.
"Firstly they ignored the intention of the Offshore Resources Act which offers labour market testing and appropriate protections for Australian workers, then they overrode the Senate when it offered a view they didn’t like.
“At no stage have they tried to sit down with unions or Senators to try to find a way through – they simply acted in accordance with the wishes of the big business interests dominating the leasing of our national hydrocarbon assets . They were fully prepared to have taxpayers foot the bill for the incompetence that cloaked their political sycophancy and prejudice.
"The Federal Court has today restored faith and most importantly stability in the employment laws protecting ordinary Australians. This entire episode merely adds to the appearance to our international markets of a chaotic, dysfunctional Government in what is an essential and highly efficient and productive Australian workforce and industry. "
“The MUA and AMOU are currently working on a draft regulation to fix this problem and we urge the Abbott Government to sit down with relevant parties to find a solution that is acceptable to unions, companies and the Senate.”
The Abbott Government has an election commitment to repeal the Offshore Resources Act, which was introduced by the former Gillard Government.
“The MUA does not have a problem with a temporary migration program that genuinely fills a gap in skills, that properly engages in market testing,” Mr Crumlin said.
“This has clearly not been about skills shortages - what we’ve seen is hugely profitable companies operating in the offshore looking to import overseas workers on cheap rates of pay, who don’t have to pay tax in Australia and with no security checks or Australian-approved skills sets when we have hundreds of highly qualified and experienced seafarers who are ready to work and pay their taxes instead on unemployment benefits. 
"It is a politically motivated policy sucking up to some entrenched areas of commercial indulgence that amounts to a form of self harm against the national interests and the laws that defend Australians seeking to work in their own country. 
The MUA and AMOU are strong supporters of the Senate Inquiry into temporary work visa schemes such as 457s which was passed by the upper house earlier this week.
Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) President Wayne Moore said this was merely another case of the Abbott Government's ideological crusade to bust unions and bring in foreign workers to undermine Australian jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector.
“The Senate made the right decision in the middle of last year to protect Australian jobs by blocking the Abbott Government’s attempts to flood the offshore oil and gas sector with cheap foreign labour,” Mr Moore said.
“The Australian people know that opening the back door to cheap foreign labour isn’t the answer. We need to maintain our maritime skills base and ensure the viability of Australian jobs in the offshore sector.
“The only reason the Abbott Government won’t put the ORA Appeal Act to the Senate is because they don’t think they can get it through.”