Overseas worker sponsorship bill passed

The Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 was passed yesterday and includes the Subclass 457 visa program, enabling employers to sponsor overseas workers to fill skilled positions.Evans said industry and unions had extensive input into the amended bill.Under the visa program, which responds to national skilled labour shortages, employers can sponsor overseas skilled workers for up to four years.“Almost 60,000 primary visas were granted to overseas workers in 2007-08 and while the vast majority of employers did the right thing, there have been concerns about the incidence of employer breaches in the program,” Evans said.More than 1350 employers received official warnings during the 2007-08 period and 192 were formally sanctioned.The bill provides for specially trained officers to monitor workplaces for compliance, with breaches facing fines of up to $33,000 and cancellation of an employer’s sponsor status.“The new laws will also enable the commissioner of taxation to disclose tax information to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in order to ensure correct salary levels are being paid to visa holders,” Evans said.Meanwhile, the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia estimates a current shortage of 28,000 engineering professionals in Australia.The demand for skilled professionals is unlikely to be stunted by the global financial crisis, with the Australian government investing in essential infrastructure projects to help Australia weather the downturn.However, the ACEA has some concerns regarding the Subclass 457 visa program, with ACEA chief executive Megan Motto saying additional provisions recommended in the Deegan review made the costs of sponsoring overseas workers prohibitive for many employers.“The need to be able to bring in highly skilled, highly paid professionals from overseas is the best short-term strategy to help Australian consulting firms deliver ongoing projects,” Motto said.“The Deegan report’s first recommendation states that Subclass 457 visa holders should have the same terms and conditions of employment as all other employees in the workplace. “The ACEA supports this premise entirely; however, most of the subsequent 65 recommendations listed within the report are in complete contrast with this recommendation.” She said the recommendation in the report that employers provide income protection insurance for sponsored workers would oblige companies to pay the insurance for all workers.“Large firms would be up for costs of millions of dollars annually,” she said.Motto added business would not be able to absorb the associated costs, resulting in companies not being able to use the scheme.“Governments and industry have to work together to provide long-term solutions to the skills shortages,” she said.“In the past 12 months, 40 per cent of large firms have had to recruit up to 10 per cent of their staff internationally to meet the growing Australian demand.“We must not forget that skilled labour is critical to any project’s success and without consulting engineers to design these projects, delays and cost blow-outs will continue to impact on the success of Australia’s infrastructure plans.”

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