Maritime unions have welcomed endorsement by the ACTU Executive of their campaign to protect the jobs of Australian workers in the offshore oil and gas sector.
At the same time, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) have confirmed they will push ahead with a legal challenge to the Abbott Government’s attempt to allow an influx of foreign workers in the offshore.
The Abbott Government effectively overturned a decision by the Senate last week, which voted to disallow Government regulations which determined the type of visas under which workers could be employed in the sector.
The main sticking point was the use of the Maritime Crew (subclass 988) Visa, which requires no labour market testing and can be used to hire foreign workers on greatly reduced pay and conditions compared to their Australian counterparts.
All maritime unions – the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), The Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) and Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) – opposed the Government’s regulations.
They proposed a solution whereby the Government reintroduce a regulation which mentioned the other two types of visa – the 457 and 400 – without the MCV.
But instead of listening and working co-operatively, the Government instead chose to wind back the clock by announcing on Thursday it would use a 'legislative instrument' which eliminated the need for a visa for those on board ships and other craft not tethered to the Australian seabed.
Now the ACTU Executive has endorsed the following motion:
ACTU Executive expresses its deep concern at the actions of the Abbott Government that are designed to undermine the rights and opportunities of Australians to access employment in the Australian offshore oil and gas industry.
The Abbott Government has taken three significant steps that undermine Australian participation in offshore oil and gas projects. It has:
· Introduced a Bill to repeal the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013 which was passed by the Parliament in 2013 to address a flaw in Australia’s migration law following a Federal Court judgement in the Allseas case that found that certain groups of workers were not within the migration zone and did not require visas to work in Australia;
· Introduced a Regulation under that Act that specified an inappropriate visa class as a work visa to conform with the 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 Determination that effectively makes the Act null and void in complete disregard to the wishes of the Parliament.
The ACTU condemns the Abbott Government for its underhand methods of circumventing the will of the Parliament. By specifying an inappropriate visa class which contains only minimal background checking, which places no obligations of the sponsor to meet minimum Australian labour, safety and compensation standards, and which includes no labour market testing requirement, the Government’s intentions are clear for all to see.
The Government has used a back door method to create an loophole which will enable employers to sponsor vast numbers of overseas temporary workers with no obligation on sponsors or employers to comply with Australian workplace relations laws, including Awards and enterprise agreements. Second, to ride roughshod over the wishes of the Senate by using a Determination making power in the Act to completely deny the full intent of the Act.
These actions of the Government are contrary to Australia's national interest, are a slap in the face for Australian offshore oil and gas workers and for the many Australians who want to work in the sector and demonstrates the Government is prepared to disregard Australian security interests when big business interests are involved.
The ACTU acknowledges the important role which the Greens, PUP, DLP, AMEP and Labor Senators played in disallowing the regulations. This was the right decision by the Senators and any unintended consequences fall squarely on the Government and the Assistant Minister for Immigration.
The ACTU will continue to support its affiliates in the offshore oil and gas industry in their actions to have the decision of the Government overturned to enable the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013 to operate as it was intended – to support Australia's national security, to provide protections that encourage and facilitate Australian participation and employment in the offshore oil and gas industry and to ensure Australian laws apply to these offshore projects.
This disgraceful move by the Government to replace Australian jobs with positions available only to overseas workers with visa conditions that don’t give them the protections Australian workers are entitled to is unacceptable to the ACTU, and has put the interests of big business ahead of Australian workers yet again.