Business campaign against 457 visas heats up, as the controversial legislation is passed by the lower house

Controversial 457 visa legislation which will make it harder for Australian businesses to hire an overseas worker was passed by the lower house of Parliament yesterday.

The bill, which is strongly opposed by many business groups and was the subject of much debate in Parliament, was passed with 73 votes to 72.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate before it is enacted, but despite being highly contested the Rudd government successfully passed the bill through the lower house with the support of crossbenchers Adam Bandt, Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Craig Thomson and Tony Windsor.

The Senate will sit until 3pm today, with the 457 bill just one of many which has been rushed through Parliament in recent days.

In response to the bill’s passing, business groups around the country have called for the Senate to reject it, as they are in particular opposition to the practice of labour market testing being brought back.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany there is no problem with the current system, despite Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor saying the system is being rorted with claims of up to 10,000 cases of abusing the system.

“This just shows how much the unions are controlling policy. Unions need to have some influence, but we need to get rid of this level of control.

“The impact on small business is really quite severe, if someone needs a new panel beater for example, by all means they should try and find an Australian worker first, but we shouldn’t make the process hard,” he says.

Strong says the requirement for endeavouring to find an Australian worker before an international one “shouldn’t be onerous”.

“We haven’t seen many figures to say a rorting of the system is actually happening, and if it is, it’s certainly not small business,” he says.

Strong says this policy, in conjunction with the Labor Party’s proposal to cap self-education tax deductions at $2000, will make it too difficult for Australian businesses to hire appropriately skilled staff.

The bill as it currently stands mandates employers must show evidence of trying to find an Australian worker, such as through placing job advertisements for the position, before a foreign skilled worker can be hired. The bill also states there will be more inspectors to police the alleged rorts and a 457 visa hotline will be established.

The Business Council of Australia said in a statement today the Rudd government should have acted to stop the bill.

“This is bad policy resulting from bad process and it needs to be stopped.

“The Business Council’s consistent calls for any concerns about the temporary migration scheme to be subjected to a proper regulatory assessment, and for any changes that are subsequently proposed to be put through an appropriate consultation with those affected have been ignored,” Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott says.

Westacott says any abuses can be dealt with under the current system.

“With our competitiveness under extreme pressure, now is a very bad time to be making it harder for critical skills shortages to be filled, which not only enable major investments and projects to go ahead, but which protect the job prospects of Australian workers,” she says.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of employment, education and training Jenny Lambert said in a statement the passing of the bill was “an abuse of parliamentary process borne from a political agenda”.

“The bill, if enacted, will seriously restrict the ability of employers to efficiently fill gaps with skilled workers, especially professional health workers and skilled trades workers not found in some regions or parts of the economy.

“This bill punishes all employers for the errors of a few, without evidence of systemic failure. It gives the minister the power to shut down the skills pipeline to certain industries by imposing onerous labour market testing delays on any occupation he or she chooses to target,” she says.

Despite the complaints of the business bodies, TressCox Lawyers partner and migration agent Rachel Drew previously told SmartCompany there will be exemptions to the contentious labour market testing requirement which means businesses most in need of skilled labour won’t be impacted.

“Essentially the jobs which are most in demand, like engineers and medical practitioners, most of these will be exempted and this is a good and positive step,” Drew said.

Earlier this month O’Connor said the legislation was designed to protect Australian workers and said growth in 457 visas had been particularly high in the retail and hospitality sectors which traditionally provided jobs to young Australians.

“Australians would expect that businesses are making genuine efforts to find local workers first, and this requirement will not impose any additional burden on those already doing the right thing,” he said in regards to the requirement for labour market testing.

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