“For years now, unions have been standing up, not only for Australian workers whose right to jobs and training opportunities have been ignored by those employers who prefer to take the easy option of the 457 visa programme,” he said.
“For our part, the union movement is proud of the role we have played in advocating on behalf of all workers affected by the 457 programme. As part of the debate around the 457 visa program, unions often get accused of being xenophobic or playing the race card. It’s a slur we will continue to hear from our opponents, I’m sure. We will never support the debate being hijacked in that direction,” he explained.
Oliver laid emphasis on the fact that immigration is an integral part of the Australian story, as migrants have made and continue to make an invaluable contribution to Australia’s social, cultural and economic life.
Oliver continued, “Through their skills, hard work and initiative, migrants have played a crucial role in building the nation. Unions are particularly proud of the fact that hundreds of thousands of our members across the country are migrants or come from migrant backgrounds. We recognise and support the fact that skilled migration will continue to be a part of the response to our future national skill needs,’ he told the meeting.
“Our clear preference is that this occurs primarily through permanent migration where workers enter Australia independently. We believe this is the form of migration that best gives migrants a stake in Australia’s long term future and it removes the ‘bonded labour’ type problems that can emerge with temporary, employer-sponsored migration. But we do acknowledge that temporary migration can have a role to play in filling genuine short term skill shortages,” he added.
He added that for this to work Australians must be offered both jobs and training rather than employers think they can import ‘cheap labour’.
He also highlighted those on 457 visa should be sure of their rights and conditions of employment, thereby avoiding illegal exploitation.
“This is also about ensuring that employers are not let off the hook, making sure employers cannot just take the easy option of the 457 visa programme without first looking at the local labour market and investing in training to develop the skills of local workers and ensuring employers who do the right thing are not undercut by those employers who exploit and abuse the 457 visa programme,” Oliver told those present at the conference.
“A rigorous system of labour market testing is absolutely essential if we are serious about the integrity of the 457 visa programme and ensuring the community can have confidence in the programme. Above all, it’s about dignity at work regardless of who you are or where you come from. If nothing else, that’s what unions are about,” he concluded.