The Guardian 2 March, 2005

"Temporary Guest Worker" visas
no solution


The National Farmers' Federation's proposal for a new "seasonal" visa to plug up labour shortages in rural Australia does not provide an adequate solution to rural employment problems and paves the way for exploitation and abuse of foreign workers.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone stated last week the Howard Government was "very, very interested" in the scheme, although expressed reservations on how to get rid of the workers once the employers were finished with them. She expressed frustration with immigrants who after finding a job, setting up a life and contributing their best to the country wanted to stay.

"Cupid has a funny way of appearing after requests for intervention are denied people fall in love and have a baby", said Ms Vanstone. "There are issues as to whether people will go back. We're working through these."

Numerous revelations of employers abusing temporary workers have surfaced over recent years, including high-profile cases involving Indian and South African construction workers.

"This is an idea which has been pushed many times over the years", John Sutton, National Secretary of the CFMEU's Construction and General Division, "but these kinds of quick fixes will not solve our skills shortage problems in the long term."

Mr Sutton also questioned the true intention of the government with the "guest worker" scheme. "These workers are being exploited and manipulated to undercut wages, conditions and health and safety standards."

He cited the deaths of three such workers on Sydney sites over three consecutive months in the early part of last year as examples.

A previous government plan to bring workers on temporary visas was mooted in 2003 seasonal workers were to be brought in on temporary visas from the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and near-by countries in order to gain training and skills and earn hard-currency to remit home.

However, that scheme widely endorsed across the political spectrum was part of a sinister wider agenda to allow the Australian government to tighten its grip on the labour markets and finances of our neighbours.

The recommendation came from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a "think-tank" set up by the Howard government, to provide it with allegedly "independent" advice. Yet the ASPI is financed out of the Federal government's military budget and played a leading part in preparing for and justifying Australia's occupation of the Solomon Islands.

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