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PROTECTING LOCAL WORKERS – RESTORING FAIRNESS TO AUSTRALIA’S SKILLED VISA SYSTEM

April 23, 2019

A Shorten Labor Government will protect Australian wages from being undercut and ensure employers are not using overseas workers as a cheap replacement for local workers.
 
Labor will overhaul the 457-style visa system so that it isn’t cheaper to pay an overseas worker than pay a local worker.
 
Labor’s Protecting Local Workers package will increase the lowest wage that a worker can be paid under a 457-style visa, crackdown on the exploitation of overseas workers which undermine local wages and conditions, and make sure businesses must prove they have looked to employ local workers first.
 
Under the Liberals, everything is going up except people’s wages and too many local workers are being left at the back of the queue for local jobs.
 
When businesses use overseas workers as a cheap replacement for local workers it contributes to wage stagnation.
 
Labor believes there is no excuse for a skills shortage to last one day longer that it takes to train an Australian to do that job – especially if a particular industry is booming – and we’ll train local workers with our plans to invest in TAFE and higher education.
 
There are more than 1 million underemployed Australians wanting more work and youth unemployment is at 11.7 per cent – more than double the national average. At the same time, there are almost 1.6 million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia, with the top end of town turning to temporary work visas to undercut local jobs, wages and conditions.
 
Despite this, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has done nothing but make superficial changes to 457-style visas without addressing the significant loopholes that exist in Australia’s visa system.
 
Labor’s plan includes:
 
Protecting Australian wages
 
Labor will increase the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) immediately to $65,000 with annual indexing - up from the current level of $53,900. This is the lowest wage that a worker can be paid under a 457-style visa. The TSMIT has been frozen since 2013 under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.
 
What is meant to be a protection has been eroded under the Liberals – meaning it has become cheaper to bring in an overseas worker than pay a local worker.
 
Labor will also look to close loopholes that allow employers to artificially inflate salaries in order to meet the TSMIT – such as providing substandard accommodation and inflated or excessive overtime hours. We will examine how best to close loopholes that allow some temporary visa workers to be paid less than awards or enterprise agreements.
 
Where wages are above the minimum TSMIT, the market salary rate framework will continue to operate as a core component of the temporary skilled visa system. A Shorten Labor Government will take recommendations on the market salary rate framework from a tripartite body with equal representation from government, unions and employers.
 
This will ensure employers are not using overseas workers as a cheap replacement for local workers, protecting Australian wages from being undercut.
 
Labor will also charge a levy equal to three per cent or six per cent of the TSMIT per visa per year for businesses with a turnover under $10 million per year or a turnover of $10 million and above per year, respectively. 
 
Businesses with a turnover less than $10 million per year will pay $1,950 a year for a four-year visa, and businesses with a turnover of more than $10 million per year will pay $3,900 a year for a four-year visa.
 
Preventing the exploitation of vulnerable workers
 
Preventing the exploitation of temporary workers is good for overseas and local workers alike because it ensures Australian wages and conditions are not undermined.
 
A Shorten Labor Government will:
 

  • Target exploitative employers by increasing funding for a joint agency taskforce.
  • Create a public register that outlines the number of visa holders engaged by individual workplaces and employers.
  • Require employers to provide their workers with a copy of the relevant collective agreement, award or labour agreement – as well as contact details for support services and organisations, such as community legal centres, migrant worker centres and unions.
  • Extend the Fair Work Ombudsman’s regulatory powers to the inspection of workplaces and investigation of employer breaches of Migration Act provisions relating to visa work conditions.
  • Extend the current standing that exists for unions to commence civil actions for breaches of the Fair Work Act to include breaches of the Migration Act relating to visa work conditions.

 
We will also improve cooperation between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Home Affairs so that migrant workers – like those exploited by unscrupulous franchises – can come forward to expose exploitation without fear of immediate deportation.
 
Finding Local Solutions to Skills Shortages
 
Around four out of five temporary skilled worker visas are granted for occupations where there is no shortage of skilled workers in Australia – this needs to change.
 
Labor will legislate to establish an independent Australian Skills Authority (ASA) to restrict temporary work visas to jobs where there is a genuine skills shortage.
 
The ASA will project Australia’s future skills shortage so we can train local workers for these jobs. It will regularly review the skills shortage lists to add or remove occupations in response to changes in Australia’s skills, job market and regions.
 
The ASA will have equal representation from government, unions and employer groups and be supported by a dedicated independent labour market analysis resource.
 
Labor will also introduce the Australian Jobs Test to prevent labour agreements from being entered into unless they support or create jobs for Australian workers.
 
Labor has always fought for local workers to get the first shot at local jobs which is why, from opposition, we successfully amended legislation to guarantee strict labour market testing conditions to ensure there are no qualified local workers before a temporary skilled visa is made available.
 
Maintaining Australian Skills Standards
 
Overseas workers need to have the same skills we would expect of Australian workers doing the same job.
 
Labor will crack down on unqualified and underqualified temporary workers by strengthening enforcement of skills assessment and occupational licencing requirements in occupations where it is mandatory to hold a licence, registration or professional membership.
 
We will strengthen the current skills assessment processes by ensuring offshore assessment and testing of overseas workers is by a Trades Recognition Australia (TRA) approved Registered Training Organisation (RTO) before being granted a visa – rather than immigration officials, as is required for permanent migration outcomes.
 
Labor’s Protecting Local Workers Package will build a strong visa system that doesn’t undermine local jobs, wages, and conditions.
 
These reforms improve fairness, equity, level the playing field for Australian workers, and protect jobs and wages.
 
Only Labor has a plan to crackdown on 457-style visa rorts, ensure local workers are given the first shot at local jobs and invest in skills and training.
 
This election is a choice between Labor’s plan to protect Australian jobs and wages, or bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town under the Liberals. 
 
After six years of Liberal cuts and chaos, our united Labor team is ready to deliver a fair go for all Australians. 
 

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST