Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has announced that Perth is to be classified as a regional employment hardship area. The move will allow Perth to benefit from the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme in an attempt to alleviate projected worker shortages.
Mr Bowen’s announcement, made last week at a Perth Mining Conference, will allow employers the opportunity to bring skilled and semi-skilled workers from overseas or to employ workers currently in Australia under the 457 visa scheme. The scheme relaxes restrictive elements of national immigration legislation, including English language requirements and salary thresholds.
Western Australia’s labour shortages are particularly acute, with economists predicting that the problem may stifle growth. By 2017, as major resource projects get underway, the Western Australian Government anticipates a shortage of up to 150,000 skilled workers.
The State Government and industry welcomed the move. Nicole Roocke, Director of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy for Western Australia, said targeted migration was vital to easing demand for labour. Norman Moore, acting Training and Workforce Development Minister, was ‘delighted’ with the announcement, but said that more needed to be done at a Federal level. According to Mr Moore, ‘The lack of flexibility regarding visas is frustrating. In addition, processing of visas is a disincentive for potential migrants.’
Union groups, however, were more cautious over the announcement. Simone McGurk, from Unions WA, contends that the government should do more to solve youth unemployment. Ms McGurk explained:
‘The easier it is for employers to bring in workers from overseas to fill skilled gaps throughout a range of industries, the less likely they are to train local workers, and particularly young people, to fill gaps, not just now, but in the future’.
Ms McGurk also argued that visa scheme employees are susceptible to exploitation and abuse by employers. Ms McGurk’s sentiments were shared by State School Teachers’ Union representative, Anne Gisborne. Under the proposal, teachers’ aides would be eligible for the sponsorship programme; currently, however, there is no shortage. Ms Gisborne further argued that lowering the English language eligibility criteria would be damaging:
‘It creates a problem in the context of education because, of course, language is one of the fundamentals and we need to ensure that young children in our schools are actually conversing with people who are able to understand, and can help them develop, their own language or English competency.’
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