Union slams coal miner for keeping temporary visa workers

In the face of a coal sector downturn miners are shedding jobs.

Last month Downer EDI sacked 106 workers, nearly a third of the workforce, from its Boggabri mine.

87 fulltime workers and 19 contractor positions were cut, leaving around 240 workers at the site.

The ABC reported that for workers at the NSW coal mine, the end was brutal.

"I got a phone call," Sharon Partridge said.

"It was very quick, very to the point, saying that your position in particular had been made redundant.

"It is very hard, very tough at the moment. And trying to find employment in this area at this point in time is extremely hard."

Another now redundant employee, single mother Jo Hall had one wage coming into her household.

"Now it's gone," she said.

"I have two children that need education. They've got sport, they've got commitments. I've got a mortgage to pay. I have to do whatever I can do."

What makes the pill even harder to swallow for local residents is that while locals are being sacked, six Papua New Guinean workers brought in on 457 visas have kept their diesel fitting jobs maintaining the site’s trucks.

"These people just flit into the town and flit back out," Hall said.

"It's frustrating … It is. It just makes you feel dehumanised and worthless."

Partridge said the move has left her feeling “cheated” by the mining industry.

"I feel … cheated that they are bringing other people in when there are capable, skilled people here to do those jobs," she said.

Responding to the news Downer EDI said the Papua New Guinean workers have specialist skills unavailable in the local workforce.

A claim the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union adamantly denies, and a company skills chart obtained by the ABC seems to confirm the union's position.

Many of the now redundant tradespeople have multiple qualifications, while the PNG workers are listed as having next to none.

The CFMEU said the decision to retain the 457 visa workers over local employees “highlights the urgent need for legislation to address rorts” within the scheme.

“The fact that a third of the local workforce in this regional community in northern NSW has lost their jobs overnight, yet temporary overseas workers have been retained, shows there is something seriously wrong with the current system,” CFMEU Construction national secretary Dave Noonan said.

Following a rise in the visas over the last year and claims of abuse within the system, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that her government intends to tighten the use of the visas and aims to put “Aussie jobs first”.

The government changes are to include a requirement for employers to demonstrate a genuine shortage of potential employees before nominating positions for 457 visas and raising the English language requirements for certain positions.

In addition, they would enact stronger compliance and enforcement powers to stop employers who routinely abuse the 457 system.

Both unions and the Gillard Government have claimed companies have abused the 457 system.

“The 457 visa was designed to plug genuine skills shortages, yet increasingly we are seeing Australian workers missing out because employers can bring in labour from overseas on cheaper rates of pay,” Noonan said.

Commenting on the recent Boggabri coal redundancies, CFMEU Mining northern district secretary Grahame Kelly said local jobs need to be protected.

 “We think it is essential that when a downturn occurs in the industry, local workers are given priority.

“It is unacceptable that temporary overseas labour is being retained while locals go down the road.”

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