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Australia – End of sponsored visas for chefs, bricklayers, and tillers prompts backlash

09 June 2014

Foreign chefs, bricklayers, and tilers will no longer require a sponsor to work in Australia as of 1 July 2014 in a bid by the Federal Government to fill labour and skills shortages, reports The Daily Mail. The move has been slammed by unions who say the Government should be looking out for domestic workers instead of encouraging more overseas workers to come to Australia.

The three professions have been added to the Skilled Occupation List, which means workers do not have to be sponsored by employers for a permanent visa. There are currently 188 jobs on the Skills Occupation List, including vascular surgeons, stonemasons, locksmiths, and midwifes.

The changes were made following advice from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency based on labour market, education & training, migration and general economic & demographic data, and stakeholder submissions.

Michaelia Cash, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said Australian residents would always come first: “The Abbott Government believes that where there is an Australian who is ready, willing and able to do the job, they should always be considered first.”

“However, it would be simplistic to say that there is always an Australian willing and available to fill a particular position in various geographical locations within Australia, and it is the role of the skilled migration program to fill the gap where such shortages exist. It is important to remember that a business that is forced to close due to an inability to source vital skilled labour is a business that employs no-one,” she added.

A Department of Immigration spokesman said figures indicated chefs have been in shortage for the past 10 years, which threatens the sustainability of the hospitality and tourism industry. He also said the vacancy rate for the sector was more than four times the national average, according to industry experts.

The union that represents chefs, United Voice, and its acting national secretary David O'Byrne said he was very concerned about the move: “We don’t think labour issues within the industry need for this to occur. The hospitality industry is very good at and easily able to attract staff through the industry.”

Mr O'Byrne said instead of going overseas for jobs the government should be investing in training and furthering career paths: “In the era of Masterchef are you telling me there aren’t people who don’t want to become chefs? It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Bricklayers and tilers have also been included on the list because of a predicted increase in demand coupled with a fall in apprenticeship completions.

Based on 2012 projections by the Department of Employment, there will be a +13.4% increase in the number of people employed as bricklayers over the five years to November 2017, and a +17.3% increase in the number of people employed as tilers during the same period of time.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's David Noonan, however, said the Abbott Government's reasoning for adding the three occupations to the list were unfounded: “In particular the building trades that the government intend to put back on the list are trades where there are no shortages and even the Master Builders Association have acknowledged that.”

'It seems that the Coalition again is putting the Australian workers' interest last. Rather than ramping up migration in these areas they should be addressing the collapse in apprentice numbers in these trades. It’s extraordinary the Government would do this would do this based on the evidence and to the people who pay their wages,” he added.

The number of skilled workers to be taken in under the program has been capped at 43,990.

To ensure these industries are not dominated by overseas workers, a ceiling cap of 6% of the workforce will be enforced for all industries. The chef workforce cap, however, will be dropped to 3% for six months from 1 July 2014 and will then be reviewed. The department's spokesman said it would be increased if no 'adverse behaviour' was identified.

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