31 Jan 2017

SUBJECTS: Labor’s focus on jobs; Temporary workers.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: The Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace relations is in Adelaide, a city where we’re looking for jobs, very much so, particularly with the looming closure of Holden. You’ll be visiting the workers at Holden today, Brendan O’Connor. Welcome to the program.
ABRAHAM: Brendan O’Connor, it’s pretty easy to say you want to be the party of jobs. I imagine the Liberal Party, even the Greens would say that they want to be the party of jobs. What’s your reflection on that?
O’CONNOR: The fact is Malcolm Turnbull went to the election under the mantra jobs and growth, and since then we’ve seen no growth or jobs. No one’s pretending it’s easy, that there’s a magic wand here, but you need to invest firstly in your people in order to ensure they have the skills for the jobs that are in the labour market.
What we’re seeing, and one of the things you’ll hear from Bill Shorten today is about making sure that we equip our people with the skills necessary to take on work. And part of that, of course, is not relying too heavily upon people on temporary work visas, of which there are over 800,000 in this country at the moment, or on 457 visas. That is going to be always a-
ABRAHAM: So, a little bit of a Trump?
O’CONNOR: No, no. We announced much of this stuff about restricting temporary workers in the election, well before Trump. And it’s not about Trump. It’s not about anything other than ensuring the 1.8 million Australians who are either looking for some work or more work are given opportunities. It’s in fact not fair that people cannot enter the labour market. We should only use temporary work visas, of course, when we’re filling legitimate demand.
ABRAHAM: But, we’ve seen that, and we saw it with the harvesters, the fruit harvesters in the Riverland. This all sounds fine in practice, but there has to be Australians who want to do those jobs, at that moment?
O’CONNOR: And that’s why I say legitimate demand.
ABRAHAM: How do you work that out?
O’CONNOR: Firstly, there are areas, without a doubt, in the labour marker that require the use of temporary work visas. In agriculture, in remote and regional areas, fruit picking in many parts, there’s no doubt there is a need for particular workers coming in to help farmers and others. There’s no doubt. But equally we have people who are in large urban centres undertaking work - you can’t blame the people wanting to do that – undertaking work at the same time we have very, very high levels of unemployment.
All I’m saying, all Labor is saying, is let’s invest in our people to equip them with skills and let’s make sure we get the balance right about using temporary workers. You have to understand that the use of temporary workers as a proportion of our labour market has gone up five fold in the last decade and therefore we have to get that balance right.
ABRAHAM: You’re listening to Brendan O’Connor. We’re talking to him. He’s in Adelaide. He’s Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in Bill Shorten’s Opposition. I notice here that in Victoria Shepherd’s piece that Bill Shorten will say Australian nurses, carpenters and cooks are missing out on jobs because of work visa abuses. So where’s the evidence of that?
O’CONNOR: Well the evidence is that there are unemployed Australians with skills right now that can’t find work. And at the same time we’re still relying upon the temporary work paths for people to fill those jobs. We will always require as I said we have a non- discriminatory immigration policy and we’re going to continue to grow our country through immigration but you cannot have a situation-
ABRAHAM: You can’t have it both ways can you? You can’t say you’ve got a non-discrimination employment policy but we’ll clamp down on 457 visas.
O’CONNOR: You actually can have it both ways in this respect - you can ensure that when people come here as permanent migrants they get opportunities of work and have every right as every other citizen has. But at the same time when you’ve got in excess of 800,000 people on temporary work visas and you have hundreds of thousands of people missing out, you know you haven’t got the balance right.
I’m not talking about the permanent immigration stream and it’s not just about that as you know, it’s about as we’ve said, and it’s about what Bill was saying today, investing in the skills required for the jobs that are in the labour market where people just are not equipped here. One of the reasons employers are saying we need to look overseas is they say they cannot find people with sufficient skills-
ABRAHAM: What sort of skills? If you’ve got a highly qualified IT professional for instance, your main skill is finding other jobs because you keep getting made redundant.
O’CONNOR: Well for example we have been bringing in trades people into Australia rather than train young people. We’ve seen a decline in apprenticeships in this country. That is why Bill is talking about making sure that in large Commonwealth contracts will employ one in ten people which will be an Australian apprentice. We need to reinvest in TAFE, it is the public provider of vocational training-
ABRAHAM: We’ve seen that in South Australia, TAFE has been gutted.
O’CONNOR: It’s not just South Australia.
ABRAHAM: Well it’s a Labor government.
O’CONNOR: It’s not just Labor or Liberal governments.
ABRAHAM: Well it’s a Labor government that’s gutted TAFE here.
O’CONNOR: Well let me just be very clear here, it’s not happened in the last little while and it’s not just happened in South Australia, over the last 30 years I think Australia has failed in many respects in relation to vocational training.
From Labor’s point of view we had the Bradley Review of Higher Education, we had Gonski review of education, the missing piece of the puzzle, if you like, is a proper reassessment and recalibration of vocational training. It’s an area which I think we’ve let down many, many people at a state and federal level. And I’m not pointing the finger at Liberals here, we can do better as a country and that’s what Bill is taking about today investing in TAFE.
ABRAHAM: Brendan O’Connor thank you for coming to our studio, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.

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