Immigration Minister Chris Evans has ruled out changes to Australia’s immigration system to allow unskilled workers in areas of shortage to enter the country.
Responding to calls from the Indonesian Government to allow unskilled workers from that country to be allowed to work for short periods in Australia, Evans indicated Labor was more focused on eradicating abuses from the existing s457 skilled migration program.
“We have not got proposals or intend supporting unskilled migration to the country,” Evans said.
Business groups in Australia have mixed views on the suitability of an unskilled migration program for Australia.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says in its policy documents that “there need to be mechanisms for facilitating the supply of unskilled or semi-skilled workers to meet existing and reasonably foreseeable labour shortages”, but stops short of directly calling for an unskilled immigration program.
The Recruitment and Consulting Services Association, which represents many of the recruiting businesses that currently use the s457 skilled work visa system, says more still needs to be done to ensure unskilled positions are filled by local workers.
“Our focus has been very much on utilisation of the existing Australian workforce for unskilled labour. We see s457 visas as very good tools for filling temporary gaps in the skilled workforce, but on unskilled workers we want to tap the local workforce rather than going overseas,” a RCSA spokesman Charles Cameron says.
However, there can be little doubt that there would be demand from some employers for unskilled workers to come from other countries on a temporary basis if laws were to change.
“If you present a worker from overseas in the current environment, even if they’re unskilled, there will always be an element that will seek to utilise them,” Cameron says.
Much of that demand could come from employment hotspots such as Western Australia. George Gelavis, chief executive of Perth-based recruiting company Ultimate Skills, says there is a huge hunger there for both skilled and unskilled workers.
“There would definitely be a high degree of demand for unskilled workers, no question at all; the employment situation is just so tight over here.”
Gelavis says while demand is strong in the resources sector, the “mining vacuum” means there are shortages of workers in a whole range of sectors across the state.
“Unskilled workers are almost impossible to find in all sorts of areas – in construction, brickie’s labourers and that sort of thing are hard to find, and also in the hospitality industry, there is a big-time shortage in jobs like kitchen hands,” Gelavis says.