Labor continues to maintain the offshore visa changes put in place by the Abbott Government are unfair, compromise employment conditions and create great uncertainty in the oil and gas sector, according to Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor.
Mr O’Connor told the MUA National Conference that Assistant Minister for Immigration, Michaelia Cash, wants to create chaos in the offshore oil and gas industry by using Maritime Crew Visas (MCVs).
“Senator Cash wants to create chaos in the industry by pushing through MCVs,” said Mr O’Connor, who in 2013 oversaw the Gillard Government’s strengthening of rules surrounding the use of 457 visas and the introduction of the Offshore Resources Act.
“If the ALP is re-elected we’ll be ensuring employment conditions are not compromised and we will return certainty to the industry.”
The Abbott Government recently thumbed its nose at the Senate as part of its ideological crusade to bring in foreign workers to undermine Australian jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector.
The Senate in July voted to disallow Government regulations which determined the type of visas under which workers could be employed in the offshore oil and gas sector.
The disallowance was supported by the ALP, Greens, Palmer United Party, Motoring Enthusiasts Party and Senator John Madigan.
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.
But instead of listening and working co-operatively, the Government instead chose to wind back the clock by announcing one day later that 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.
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) will soon head to the Full Federal Court in a bid to overturn the Government’s decision.
Asked why we bother having a Senate if its decisions could be overturned in this way, Mr O’Connor said there was ongoing doubt as to the efficacy of what Senator Cash had done and whether it was legitimate.
“I haven’t had legal advice but on the face of it, it is very uncertain and the advice they’re using hasn’t been provided to the Opposition,” he said.
Asked whether businesses were also frustrated by the Government’s actions Mr O’Connor said: “Employers and unions have things in common – certainty in the industry and that’s something the Government is not providing.”
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin told National Councillors that the MUA wanted to continue to work closely with the ALP - not just on MCVs but also 457s and continuing to oppose the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
“The MUA wants to work through a strategy with the ALP,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said he expected breaches of the 457 visas were more widespread than currently known and questioned the political motives of the royal commissions into trade unions and the Home Insulation Program, the planned re-establishment of the ABCC and the Fair Work Amendment Bill.
“The Royal Commission into pink batts was purely a political exercise. We don’t expect to see a single practical improvement to health and safety in workplaces across the nation arising from the Commission,” he said.
“Labor is up for any improvements that can be made to safety or any lessons that can be learnt so terrible tragedies like this don’t occur in the future.”
The politically motivated Royal Commission into the trade union movement continues and has been granted a year’s extension by the Abbott Government.
“The Royal Commission is an attempt to diminish the union movement in the eyes of the general public,” Mr O’Connor said.
“The extension is not required and is being used so the report will come out in an election year.
“The Abbott Government is using taxpayer funds to attack its political opponents.
“There are plenty of investigative tools that exist like the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police, State and Territory police forces and other law enforcement agencies to look into the alleged corruption.
“Any criminal behaviour, whether in a union or in a private company should be a matter for the police to investigate, not a matter for politicians.
“The return of the ABCC will affect your industry - the Government wants to pry and intrude into unions while letting business run riot.
“Its proposed powers are extreme, unnecessary, undemocratic and compromise civil liberties.”
Mr O’Connor said the Fair Work Amendment Bill - currently before the Parliament – would see the erosion of conditions, particularly in industries where unions are not as strong and workers are less organised.
“The Bill will run roughshod over conditions. It also attempts to delegitimise unions in the minds of workers,” he said.
“It’s crystal clear that WorkChoices was merely sedated, not cremated as Tony Abbott promised.
“He won’t speak its name – but WorkChoices is on its way back under the Abbott Government.”