Industry concerns low on the agenda of s457 review

Industry concerns about red tape look set to be overshadowed by the issue of worker exploitation in a new review of the s457 temporary skilled migration scheme announced yesterday.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the concerns about the exploitation of migrant workers, salary levels and English language requirements will be a focus of the review.

Barbara Deegan, a former lawyer and public servant and now Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission will conduct the review.

“Ms Deegan will draw on her extensive expertise in the industrial relations sector to review the temporary business long-stay subclass 457 program and provide options to improve the integrity of the scheme,” Evans says.

Business groups today accepted the need for the review but played down the notion the worker exploitation was a widespread problem under the s457 scheme.

While concerning, claims about workers being underpaid or forced to work in unsafe conditions need to be looked at with caution, according to Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson.

“The rules under the system preventing abuses are very clear. We have to pay higher wages to start with, so it’s very much at the margin that any problems might be occurring and certainly not a problem with the mainstream of businesses,” Anderson says.

A major problem with the scheme is the long delays facing employers who desperately need labour and wish to use the s457 system, according to Anderson.

“There are concerns about the amount of time it takes to turn applications around. There is no reason why most applications shouldn’t be able to be processed within 48 hours, but at the moment it can take weeks or months,” Anderson says.

The announcement of the review also looms as a potential setback for recruitment and labour on-hire companies that have been struggling to use the scheme since the introduction of onerous new training obligations last year.

Although welcoming the review, industry peak body the Recruitment & Consulting Services Industry Association says the review should hold up dealing with the training issue.

“The changes to the regulations have been in place for six months now, and that means six months of uncertainty, frustration and disappointment for the many hundreds of overseas workers who have been left in limbo, waiting for a solution,” RCSA spokesman Charles Cameron says.

The effect has been to all but dry up the flow of workers coming to Australia on s457s, Cameron says, with only three recruitment companies out of hundreds agreeing to meet the new obligations.

The Deegan review is the second review into the skilled migration system announced by Evans since the election of the Rudd Government. It is due to report on 1 October 2008.

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