Business council continues campaign against “anti-business” legislation

The Business Council of Australia is continuing its campaign against a number of last minute “anti-business” pieces of legislation being pushed through Parliament, with the representative body particularly concerned with 457 visa legislation.

The BCA is pushing for the lower house to reject changes to the 457 visa scheme, as the chief executive of the council, Jennifer Westacott, says the next two weeks are “very dangerous” for Australia.

Westacott was quoted in The Australian this morning saying the proposed laws being pushed through before the September election will be detrimental to Australian businesses.

“This will have the effect of these laws being very hard to unwind in the future and further undermining business confidence, which is already so weak.

“We are calling on the independents and the Senate to stop and think about their national interest responsibilities rather than rushing through things that are more about shoring up support from particular quarters,” she said.

The proposed legislative changes include laws changing tax collections from quarterly to monthly, the Australian Jobs Bill and changes to skilled worker visas.

Council of Small Businesses of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany the bombardment of changes is likely to lower business confidence.

“It’s about confidence in the business community and the legislation isn’t designed to make anybody feel good about being in business.

“These sorts of mass changes aren’t unusual. It happens, but it’s wrong,” he says.
BCA’s director of media and public affairs, Scott Thompson, told SmartCompany changes to the 457 visas are of particular concern for business.

“The 457 visas for temporary skilled workers has been a highly successful program in terms of enabling employers to meet acute, short term skills needs or to enable them to get projects up and running.

“There are already significant checks and balances in the system to ensure that business is using them in the appropriate way where there isn’t local labour available and there are enforcement provisions,” he says.

Thompson says unions and the government have been unable to produce substantial evidence to suggest there is any systematic rorting of the system and says the changes will be costly to business.

“Ensuring the integrity of the system is important, but the evidence hasn’t been produced. Many employers would now have to undertake market testing before they can include any foreign skilled workers, and this method had already previously been rejected.

“It slows down the process of filling skill vacancies and the point of the scheme is to fill these skills needs. We think the parliament should reject this bill and if there is evidence produced to suggest there is a systematic failure in the scheme, there should be consultation on this evidence,” he says.

Recently released immigration department figures show the number of foreign workers in Australian on a 457 visa increased by 19% between March 2012 and March 2013, with 190,920 skilled workers in Australia.

When introducing the legislation to Parliament last week, Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said it would only target businesses which had been rorting the system.

“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 who are already doing the right thing,” he said.

If the bill is passed, the businesses most in need of skilled workers will be exempt from labour market testing.



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