Martime workers say 457 reforms fall short

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says the Federal Government has not gone far enough with changes to the 457 foreign skilled worker visa.

It will be replaced with a Temporary Skills Shortage Visa (TSSV) which has two components — a two year visa and a medium term visa which may be issued for up to four years.

The number of occupations on the TSSV will be reduced by 216 roles and the maritime sector says these include the removal of visas for ship's engineers, ship's masters, ship's officers, marine surveyors and marine transport professionals.

But MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin questions why other local oil, gas and port workers will miss out on securing key positions given there are no changes to the Maritime Crew Visa system.

"Maritime Crew Visas basically lets in international seafarers into the domestic shipping industry without any background checks," he said.

"They don't pay tax and there's no application of any market testing, so it's just treated in laissez faire fashion.

"It's doesn't even have the requirements of a 457 visa it's like a revolving door of international workers that aren't as scrutinised as (those holding) tourist visas or even student visas.

"It's just outrageous and if Mr Turnbull is going to be consistent the real issue he needs to close is that loophole. The rhetoric needs to match the action."

In September last year, a coalition of the MUA and other maritime unions had a win against the Federal Government in the High Court on foreign worker visas.

To circumvent provisions in the Offshore Resources Act that required skilled workers from overseas to only be accepted with a 457 visa, the then-assistant immigration minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, planned to introduce a new arrangement.

It was proposed that overseas workers would be issued a Maritime Crew Visa instead which, unlike 457 visas, does not come under the Immigration Act.

In an unanimous decision, five High Court judges ruled Senator Cash had exceeded her authority.

"The Maritime Crew Visa has just got to go altogether," Mr Crumlin said.

"We've got around 1,000 unemployed Australian seafarers being replaced by international workers without any regard to the impact it's having on Australian seafarers."

Miners cautious with eye to future booms

Chiefs of the mining industry's peak bodies said they did not expect the 457 visa replacement to have much of an effect on the sector now that the boom has come off the boil.

However, the CEO of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, Simon Bennison, has warned that if the proposed replacement visas are not sufficient Australia's international completeness would suffer.

"It's critically important that the Government maintains a similar worker visa that enables the industry the flexibility to source skilled labour offshore, particularly in times of construction phases like we went through in the last cycle," he said.
Mr Bennison said the decision took AMEC by surprise.

But he said as long as visas could be processed quickly, and with a four year visa option available, the impact on the Australian mining industry should not be significant.

"As we get our head around what the implications are, if there are any significant glitches we feel we've uncovered, we'll try and sit down with the Government and work through them before these come into effect in March 2018."

Metals ambivalent to 'politics over policy'

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) said it did not expect much of an impact either, but accused both the Government and the Opposition of using the 457 program as a political football.

AMMA is the key body that deals with industrial relations across the oil, gas and mining sectors.

Spokesman Tom Reid says the announcement has put politics above policy.

"In the resources sector, for instance, our usage of 457 visa workers dropped from 6,000 back in 2011-12 at the height of the construction boom. Today it's only a few hundred," he said.

Mr Reid defended claims that the 457 system was working as it was designed to do, despite claims and investigations into it being rorted.

"The Department of Immigration releases quarterly reports on the number of 457 visa applications, they're transparent, they're able to be seen by anyone," he said.

"They show the number of 457 visas (in the resources sector) was reflective of the labour demands and labour shortages in those sectors at certain times."