Maritime Unions To Challenge Abbott’s Offshore Visa Mess

Maritime unions will proceed to the Federal Court to sort out the Abbott Government’s extraordinary mishandling of the rules covering workers in the offshore oil and gas sector.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) have sought legal advice from two senior counsel who both formed the view that the Government has acted beyond its powers.

The move comes as Senators mull over the fact they have been completely done over by the Abbott Government as part of its ideological crusade to bring in foreign workers to undermine Australian jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector.

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 main sticking point has been 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 using a 'legislative instrument' which eliminated the need for a visa for those on board ships and other craft not tethered to the Australian seabed.

"It’s counterintuitive that a Government can override a decision by the Senate and our legal advice indicates this Determination cannot be made,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.

“There is existing legislation which protects the rights of Australian maritime workers to work in their own country and the Abbott Government hates it. The ideological warriors in the Abbott Government are seeking to take out an entire Australian industry.

“This is cynical government at its best. If you don’t like the decision of the Australian Senate, go and find another way to rob the Parliament of its authority and the Australian people of their own jobs and resources.”

AMOU President Wayne Moore said the Senate made the right decision to protecting Australian jobs by blocking the Abbott Government’s attempts to flood the offshore oil and gas sector with cheap foreign labour.

“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,” Mr Moore said.

The ACTU Executive last week passed a resolution expressing “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 ACTU condemns the Abbott Government for its underhand methods of circumventing the will of the Parliament” the resolution says.

“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.

“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 is also concerned that the Government’s actions will cost millions of dollars in lost taxation revenue.”

The MUA is working with other unions to renew its change.org petition, which has so far gathered nearly 15,000 signatures. It calls on Senators to:
(a) vote against the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014; and
(b) act to prevent the Federal Government from continuing to issue Maritime Crew (subclass 988) visas to foreign workers for the purposes of working in Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry.

To read more on the issue click here.

To sign the petition click here.