Govt considering reform for skilled migration

Employers across Australia’s the resource industry has welcomed the confirmation from the Federal Government that it is considering a significant reform package to the skilled migration scheme.

Minna Knight, spokesperson for the resource industry employer group, AMMA, said the proposed induction of the Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA’s) would be vital for addressing the labour issues in the sector.

They need to be approved by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen.

Knight said existing requirements under the 457 labor programme already required employers to make significant contributions towards the training of Australian residents and workers.

“As such AMMA has some concerns over reports of an additional training levy being imposed on top of existing training contributions as part of the new arrangements,” she said.

“The last thing we want to see is this Government revisiting the policy failures of the past by reinventing the Training Guarantee Scheme – a scheme in which in many cases the range of training options in fact narrowed despite their being an increase in expenditure; compliance and administrative costs soared for employers; and employees were often provided substandard training.

“In addition AMMA members have significant concerns in relation to some of the hurdles being proposed by unions in order to hinder employer’s access to the EMA’s.

“Despite the glaringly obvious need for skilled workers, it is disappointing to see some elements of the union movement seeking to place a threshold limit of $10 billion on the cost of a project before the EMA scheme could apply.

“The reality is such a high threshold level would virtually exclude all but a few major projects, rendering the proposed EMA’s completely inaccessible to a majority of resource sector employers.

Knight said some of the current attitude towards skilled migration has been disappointing.

“At a time when the nation’s resource industry employers are calling out for all-hands-on-deck, it’s unfortunate to see certain union officials trying limit the number of projects eligible under the scheme to just a handful,” Ms Knight said.

She went on to say a threshold of between $1- $2 billion in capital expenditure and up to 1500 employees at peak construction was a more realistic and acceptable threshold for meeting the definition of a large project.

“As it currently stands there are around sixty-five projects in Australia valued at over $1 billion which could be eligible to be covered by an EMA threshold of $1 billion. If the CEPU and CFMEU were have their way this would in fact be cut down to just 6 projects,” Knight said.

Yesterday, we reported that an extra 33 000 skilled workers are going to be required in the Western Australia alone by the end of next year.

“Despite the best efforts of both industry and government policy settings to both train Australian workers and encourage people off welfare and back into the workforce, the stark reality facing our nation is we simply do not possess the number of workers needed to do the job,” Knight said.

“Employers have to be able to access overseas workers in order to fill the huge void in the pool of available workers and continue to progress projects which are in the economic interests of all Australians.

The peak of the skills shortage crisis, particularly in the resource and construction industries is likely to hit when major projects in regions including the Pilbara are in production.

“Australia currently has over seventy advanced major resources projects in the pipeline,” Knight said.

“In addition, there are a further 286 less advanced projects on the books, and our expenditure on mining-related civil construction – including mines, ports, railways and other mining infrastructure – is expected to nearly double between 2010 and 2014 to about $57 billion.

“Despite this obvious need, rather than taking a long-term view in the national interest, it is disappointing to see unions determined to seek to curtail the number of projects where EMA’s could apply, while at the same time entrench themselves into the day-to-day decision making processes of the businesses delivering these projects.”

”Resource industry employers would strongly urge the Minister to recognise this union pressure on thresholds and additional levies for what it is – an attempt to create an artificial and unrealistic threshold and impose additional costs that the majority of projects would be unable to meet.”

Earlier this year, the federal government announced it would consider making it easier for skilled foreign workers to enter Australia, and in the coming two years the number of Irish immigrants is expected to reach an all time high.

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