A review of the 457 visa programme commissioned by the federal government has recommended measures designed to increase the use of temporary overseas workers by Australian businesses.
The review, conducted by business leaders, has recommended that current requirements for employers to look for local workers first (“labour market testing”) be scrapped and that English language requirements be lowered.
Unions have reacted sharply to the recommendations, pointing out that the number of 457 visa holders in Australia is currently at an all-time high, while unemployment is rising and the training and apprenticeship system is failing.
“Unemployment is at a 12 year high yet instead of creating a plan for jobs and investing in skills and training, the answer from the Government and big business is to make it easier for employers to bring in foreign workers,” said ACTU President Ged Kearney.
“Across the country we’re seeing employers cutting apprentice numbers and investment in training – then complaining they are unable to find skilled workers while youth unemployment soars,” she said.
Unions are also concerned that lowering of required English language standards will expose 457 visa holders to workplace risks.
“If workers can’t read safety standards and procedures then their lives and their colleague’s lives are being put at risk,” Ms Kearney said.
11.5% of the record 126,350 457 visas issued in 2012-13 were for the construction industry which is notorious for health and safety risks.