Local workers are being overlooked for jobs at a Geelong construction site because the contractor is using foreign workers on 457 visas, the manufacturing union claims.
- Union claims locals missed out on jobs at Geelong construction site due to foreign workers
- Employer says it only hired nine people on 457 visas, but union says there were more
- Government plans to change rules relating to 457 visas
Nearly 100 local welders, boilermakers and other skilled workers have applied for jobs with New World Engineering Construction (NWEC), which has been contracted by the Viva Energy oil refinery to build a new storage tank.
According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), all local applicants have been rejected.
The union claims much of the company’s workforce is Korean, here on 457 visas.
“Local people have applied for it. They’ve sent resumes in … They’ve approached the company on the site, saying ‘I work locally, I’m a boilermaker or a welder and I’ve worked before and I desperately need a job’ and they’ve been rejected,” AMWU state organiser Tony Hynds told 7.30.
Local boilermaker and pressure pipe welder Adrian Albert was one applicant who was rejected.
“They’ve brought their own gear, own cranes, own containers, own men — half the blokes who are on the job, if they are Australian, are from out of state,” Mr Albert said.
‘There is no work here any more’
For years Mr Albert worked here at the local Shell refinery, but two years ago Shell pulled out leaving the refinery to Viva Energy. Retrenchments soon followed.
“There is no work here anymore, and the amount of industry that is closed down, it was big industry — everyone is travelling up the highway to Melbourne. The traffic is bumper-to-bumper at 4:30 in the morning because that’s the only place now to work,” Mr Albert said.
NWEC was unavailable for an interview, but told 7.30 it employs nine “specialist tank construction workers” on 457 visas at the site. It said its other 41 employees on the job are Australian.
The company said the visa workers have the “extremely specialised welding and boiler making skills” necessary for the tank’s construction.
The manufacturing union’s Mr Hynds believes there are far more than nine 457 visa workers.
“We’ve seen the sign-on list of people, there is in excess of 50 people out there at the moment,” he said.
“Bear in mind we’ve been out there four times and every time people are saying it’s well over half the workforce are these workers.
“Even nine are too many.”
‘Unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of 457 visas
Details of the visa scheme are not transparent, according to Adelaide University’s Dr Joanna Howe, and while most employers do the right thing, some don’t.
“There is no way to absolutely concretely identify how many 457 visa holders are in that workplace,” Dr Howe said.
“We do know that at the margins there is a very serious and available opportunity for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of 457 visas and to use it to undercut wages and conditions and to replace Australian workers with foreign workers.”
On Monday Opposition Leader Bill Shorten introduced a private member’s bill into Parliament he claimed would end such exploitation.
“We simply ask employers to show the need for the nominated occupations — and to prove none of these positions can be filled by Australians,” Mr Shorten said.
The Government accused Mr Shorten of hypocrisy, saying 457 visas skyrocketed under Labor, including a visa deal for fast food giant McDonald’s.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is the special deal for McDonald’s, importing foreign workers and preferring them over Australian workers, it doesn’t matter what example you need to look at. This Leader of the Opposition can’t lie straight in bed,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.
Changes coming to 457 visas
More than 600 occupations are listed as eligible for 457 visas, categories currently determined behind closed doors by an employer-dominated committee.
Dr Howe is strongly critical of this process, calling for an independent and transparent committee to compile the list.
“Two years ago flight attendants were mysteriously added to the occupational list for the 457 visa and it came out in Parliament that that was following a meeting between the head of the Department of Immigration with Alan Joyce, who was the CEO of Qantas, who obviously had a vested interest in getting flight attendants on that 457 visa list,” she said.
Mr Dutton now plans to reduce that list and also reduce the time an unemployed visa holder stays in the country from 90 to 60 days.
But according to Dr Howe, that sends exactly the wrong message.
“What this does is to increase the vulnerability dramatically of that 457 visa holder,” she said.
“If they are in an exploitative situation they are going to be far less likely to complain or to try to get out of it. They are going to accept whatever their employer tells them because they’ve now got 30 less days to find a new job.”