The federal government has moved to re-cast the current 457 visa programme because it recognises that it is on the nose.
But it has a long way to go if it wants to address the longer-term problems of skill shortages in Australia.
That will involve getting Australia’s employers to invest in training.
And it will also require a move away from the government’s ideologically-driven support for individual contracting in favour of permanent employment.
In the communications industry, the demands of the NBN project revealed shortages is a number of skill areas, notably in design and, more recently, in all areas of HFC-related work.
But 8 years after the project was first announced, 457 visa workers are still being sought and used in areas such as fibre splicing, jointing and network design.
The fact is there has been more than enough time for the companies involved in the NBN to train a local workforce – except of course that they have preferred to avoid those costs, either through importing labour or through trying to push the costs onto workers themselves through what is effectively sham contracting.
The government has now removed a number of telecommunications occupations from the temporary skilled migration list – Telecommunications Jointer, Telecommunications Technician and Telecommunications Network Planner.
The CWU is aware of 457 visa workers being sought for these positions as recently as March this year, so if any local skill shortages do exist in these areas employers will have to start paying to train local workers – which is as it should be.
As part of its 457 visa announcement, the federal government has also flagged the establishment of a training fund to which employers contribute. The CWU welcomes this move in principle, though the devil will as usual be in the detail.
But until the corrosive impacts of sham contracting on workforce training and development are recognised and addressed, Australia will still not have the skills it needs to prosper in the future.