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Skilled Migration – The Big Question!

October 29, 2021

The AWU has slammed recent calls to ramp up skilled migration, saying an influx of workers unfamiliar with industry standards and susceptible to exploitation will put downward pressure on wages at the expense of jobs and training for Australian workers.

In the past week NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have all jumped on the immigration bandwagon.

Mr Frydenberg says the size and composition of Australia’s migration program is front and centre in his post-COVID-19 thinking.

Mr Perrottet is backing a “big NSW”, and is supporting state bureaucrats’ calls for Australia’s migration intake to more than double for five years.

And business lobbyist the ACCI wants to rush in 200,000 workers a year from overseas, to solve what it calls a “skills crunch”.

AWU National Secretary Dan Walton says much of the skills shortage is of business’ own making.

And while migrants may be needed to address urgent skills gaps in some sectors, this short-term thinking masks the fact that many unfilled jobs could easily be done by Australians.

“Australia is a nation of migrants. We have built one of the most successful societies the world’s ever known off the back of migration,” Mr Walton says.

“But what the ACCI really wants is temporary short-term migration – such as international students and working holiday makers.

“These migrants are perfect because they provide businesses with workers who aren’t familiar with Australian labour laws.

“They’re unlikely to join a union and without a local support network they cling to the job they have and will generally tolerate exploitation.”

Mr Walton says while conservative governments and business bemoan the “skills crunch”, they don’t make a sound about using Australians to fix it.

“With about 1.9 million Australians now saying they can’t get the work hours they want or need, perhaps it’s time governments looked to train them and give them an opportunity first?

“Business lobbyists will claim these people don’t have the necessary skills, but might that have anything to do with the death of apprenticeships?

“In 2012, the final full year of the last federal Labor Government, 377,000 Australians began an apprenticeship. In 2020 that had fallen to just 133,500. And this had nothing to do with the pandemic.


“When Covid hit, apprenticeship numbers had already been tumbling every year since Tony Abbott was elected.”

Funding has been ripped out of the TAFE system, leaving not just young people, but also older workers, in need of extra training and devoid of options.

“Who’s been cheering these changes? The business lobby, of course.

“Tellingly, the call to bolster migration is stapled to calls to dissemble the few remaining industrial laws that offer some semblance of protection to Australian workers.

“Can you see the cleverness of business’ play here? First you stop training apprentices and lobby your friends in government to stop spending money on TAFE.
“Then when the pipeline of skilled workers runs dry you start howling about a skills crisis, which is now so urgent you say there’s no time to train Australians.

“So you rush in more migrant workers, while another generation of low training further worsens the capacity of Australians to fill skilled positions, and the cycle continues.”

Mr Walton says Prime Minister Scott Morrison likes to position himself as blue-collar workers’ blokey best mate.

“Next time he’s at a photo opp with some tradies, I reckon he should ask them what they think of ACCI’s plan.

“He might gain some enlightening perspective.”

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