The Guardian 20 April, 2005

Importing cheap labour

Thousands of foreign bricklayers and carpenters will hit the Australian building industry as the building boom tapers off, under changes to the skilled immigration program. And foreign child care workers, included in the Migration Occupations in Demand list for the first time, will be shipped into Australia without having any formal assessment of their qualifications.

CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary, John Sutton, says the extension of the skilled migration program comes at precisely the same time as a slow down in the building cycle and will leave many tradesmen on the scrap heap.

Under the changes announced by immigration minister Amanda Vanstone, the Migration Occupations in Demand list will now include bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, fibrous and solid plasterers, as well as cabinet makers, plumbers and electricians.

John Sutton says the net result of the intake would be a new pool of cheap labour in the industry, just at the time when activity is slowing. "You do not need to be an Einstein to work out that if there is a downturn in the industry, it will be the cheap imports that will keep their jobs.

"In our experience, employer sponsorship of migrant workers has resulted in scandalous exploitation of those workers as cheap labour. Migrant workers who are unaware of Australia's health and safety regulations have been exposed to serious injury and in one case death."

The union says the Howard government would be better off employing 20,000 young Australians as trades apprentices, rather relying on migrant intakes and sending 10 department officers to boost employer expertise in engaging migrants.

Meanwhile, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union (LHMU) has warned about including child care workers who will be shipped into the country without proper assessment processes.

NSW LHMU Child Care Union President, Jim Lloyd, says the Immigration Department's own paper work issued implicitly points to a problem.

"All other occupation categories have an 'Assessing Authority' listed in the paper work but there is no 'Assessing Authority' listed for Child Care Co-ordinators.

"The Department wants to bring people in from overseas but doesn't seem to know how to assess their qualifications."

Mr Lloyd said good, skilled people have left an industry they love because of the poor pay and poor career structure.

"The Howard government's solution is not to attract them back to this vital industry by supporting improved career structures and wages but to find cheap alternatives overseas."

A child care co-ordinator in NSW can get paid as little as $28,000 a year. The current NSW LHMU Child Care Union pay equity campaign is arguing for a minimum of $50,000 a year.

Back to index page