PM accuses IT firms of abusing foreign worker program

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PM accuses IT firms of abusing foreign worker program

Local tech companies targeted by Gillard.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard today pointed the finger squarely at the Australian technology industry for taking advantange of the 457 skilled migrant visa program.

The PM this morning addressed the Australian Council of Trade Unions as part of a wider address on the Australian job market.

Gillard claimed IT companies in Australia were the largest users of temporary workers outside the Western Australia and Queensland resource sectors, and said IT organisations were using workers on the 457 program as “a substitute for spreading important economic opportunity to Australian working people’’.

“I offer absolutely no apology for putting the opportunities of Australian working people first, front and centre, wherever they are born,’’ she said.

“I want temporary, overseas skilled work to be dealt with as a policy issue about jobs, wages and working conditions, not just immigration management.’’

According to the Prime Minister, temporary overseas worker numbers are up 20 percent on last year, compared to one percent employment growth.

In the IT industry specifically, 5800 temporary workers were brought in over the past seven months, compared to 4500 IT university graduations from undergraduates in 2011. 

“One in twenty temporary overseas workers in Australia is doing IT work in New South Wales alone,” Gillard said.

“It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills.”

She said the assumption that 457 workers were performing urgently needed work in remote Australia where finding the right local labour was impossible was not borne out by facts.

Gillard said 107,000 people work in Australia as temporary overseas workers.

"Indeed of those 107,000 people, barely one-sixth is employed in mining and resources,” Gillard said. 

“There is clear evidence that in some growing sectors, importing workers on 457 visas is a substitute for spreading important economic opportunity to Australian working people.”

The Labor Government has announced reforms to the 457 program to ensure no temporary skilled workers were imported when a local worker could fill the job, including :

  • Employers must demonstrate that they are not nominating positions where a genuine shortage does not exist.
  • The English language requirements for certain positions have been raised.
  • The enforceability of existing training requirements for businesses that use the program will be strengthened.
  • The market salary exemption will rise from $180,000 to $250,000.On-hire arrangements of 457 visa workers will be restricted.
  • Compliance and enforcement powers will be beefed up to stop employers who have routinely abused the 457 system.
  • Stakeholders will be consulted to ensure market rate provisions more effectively protect local employment.

“Naturally we will work with business to make sure genuine skill shortages can be addressed, but we will not allow Australian workers to be denied the opportunity to fill Australian jobs,” Gillard said. 

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