Page 2746 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 12 August 2015

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The CFMEU say they have uncovered many cases of abuse of 457 workers, such as 150 Korean workers in the Roy Hill mine, allegedly working up to 84 hours a week, paid as little as $16 per hour and doing work outside their visa conditions. The CFMEU are concerned about the policy settings around 457 visas. In their campaign they note that in the current system it is cheaper and easier for an employer to take on a 457 worker than employ and train a local.

This hurts all workers, and I think that is a valid discussion to be having. What we know—and the CFMEU point this out in their campaign—is that there are over 700,000 unemployed people in Australia looking for work, a large proportion of whom are young people. If it is easier to employ and bring in a 457 worker than offer an apprenticeship or employ and train a local, that is a serious discussion we should be having—in other parts of Australia, and possibly here in Canberra. If that claim is true, we need to talk about whether that is a policy outcome that we are seeking in Australia. Is that the intent of 457 visas? If not, is the system failing? That is a debate we should be having, and I think it is appropriate that the CFMEU are flagging those questions.

In addition to those 700,000 unemployed people in Australia, an additional 2.2 million do not have a secure income and cannot provide a reasonable future for themselves or their families. Apprenticeship and traineeship numbers have dropped by about 41,000 over the last year. The CFMEU juxtapose this to the 457 visa situation, where there are over 100,000 temporary overseas workers on 457 visas currently in Australia and about half of them are under the age of 30.

If we go back to the high levels of youth unemployment, that is a debate we should be having. How do we create the space to make sure that those young people in Australia do get work opportunities? And is it appropriate to be bringing in 457 visa workers given those high levels of youth unemployment? Some will argue—and I have heard these arguments in the press—that some businesses cannot find Australian workers to fill those jobs. I have heard those claims. I have not done the research myself to see whether that is true, but that is a legitimate debate to be having in this country.

The issue of the 100,000 temporary overseas workers is one that has particularly caught the CFMEU’s attention when it comes to the China free trade agreement. The CFMEU says the FTA is a bad deal for Australia at a time of high unemployment, especially as it allows Chinese companies to bring in semi-skilled workers and removes the requirement for employers to advertise for local labour first. These are perfectly reasonable issues to raise and for the CFMEU and others to campaign on.

As members probably know, the Greens and I, and in fact many people in the community, do have concerns about similar issues. We have concerns about the free trade agreement and about Australia’s working visa system. While there will always be a place for skilled migration and working visas, there need to be appropriate protections to ensure that neither locals nor overseas workers are exploited. These are real issues that we should be talking about.

At the federal level my Greens colleagues have taken a strong interest in this issue, initiating a broad ranging Senate inquiry into Australia’s working visa system,

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