Employers seek reversal of ‘flawed’ 457 clampdown

THE incoming Abbott government faces pressure to unwind Labor’s 457 visa crackdown from employers, who say the rules could reduce jobs for Australians by impeding business growth.

The Australian,  by Annabel Hepworth 

17 September 2013

The Business Council of Australia has told the Productivity Commission the controversial labour market testing reporting requirements for 457 visas should be dumped, a call backed yesterday by the Australian Mines and Metals Association.

Following Tony Abbott’s announcement of his new cabinet yesterday, the issue of 457 visas is expected to fall under the portfolios of employment minister Eric Abetz and immigration and border protection minister Scoll Morrison.

The labour market testing requirements were introduced by the Rudd government amid claims of "widespread employer rorting". They will require companies to show they have tried to recruit Australians, and had been trying for four months, to fill a vacancy before nominating a foreign worker for a 457 visa, although there are exemptions.

In a new submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry into labour mobility, the Business Council calls for the rules to be scrapped because it was already costly to relocate overseas workers to Australia.

"These requirements increase employment costs without improving local employment outcomes. Indeed, by potentially inhibiting the expansion of growing businesses, overall Australian employment opportunities willbe reduced," the submission says.

AMMA executive director of industry Scott Barklamb said even though the "once-insatiable" demand for skilled labour had eased, there were still hundreds of billions of dollars worth of resources and related infrastructure projects in remote areas that needed workers.

There could be a skills shortage of 4000 specialist welders and boilermakers as major liquefied natural gas projects ramped up, Mr Barklamb said.

"The resource industry charactensed the 2013 amendments to the 457 visa system as cynical and opportunistic, and some of the arguments from supporters of (labour market testing) as bordering on xenophobia," Mr Barkiamb said.

"We would support the new government reversing the 2013 legislative changes, once again removing (labour market testing) from the 457 visa system and hopefully putting an end to this flawed approach to regulating skilled migration for good." The push is set to be opposed by unions, which say the focus should be on whether employers should do more to encourage people to work in far-flung locations.

Any legal changes to unwind the reforms could also face obstruction in the current Senate as Labor and the Greens threaten to block key planks of the Coalition’s agenda.

The Productivity Commission inquiry into labour mobility was ordered by the Labor government and a final report is expected in May next year.

Business groups have also told the inquiry that school start ages should be harmonised nationwide and state-based taxes on moving, including stamp duty, scrapped to encourage greater workforce mobility.

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