Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration minister Peter Dutton during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 20 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesThe minimum wage for temporary work visa holders has not been revised to ensure it will keep up with inflation as part of federal government reforms to the visa system.
The federal government’s decision to not implement a key recommendation from an expert review of the scheme has raised fears that the temporary work visa system will become a low-skilled visa for workers paid low wages.
Last week the federal government said it had implemented the findings of a 2014 report on the 457 Visa scheme led by John Azarias. However, it did not adopt a key recommendation to abolish employer labour market testing.
It has also refused to adopt the key recommendation in another review Mr Azarias conducted this year into the Temporary Income Skilled Migration Threshold (TSMIT) which sets a minimum wage for 457 visa holders.
The 2017 report says the threshold should continue to be set at $53,900 and be annually indexed as of July 2016 because it has not been adjusted after July 2013.
The report said it should be indexed according to the seasonally adjusted Wage Price Index and any concessions should continue to be negotiated through Labour Agreements.
It says the government should tackle programs for which sponsors do not meet the minimum wage rate.
Migration law expert, Joanna Howe, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide, said if the federal government was serious about retaining the 457 visa and new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa as a highly-skilled temporary migration scheme, it should have implemented the central recommendation of the 2017 review.
“John Azarias recommended that the Temporary Skilled Migration Threshold be indexed to inflation in order to ensure that it works effectively as a tool to prevent the 457 visa from becoming a low-skilled visa,” Dr Howe said.
“By keeping a higher salary floor, this prevents the 457 visa being used in occupations which have lower wages.
“Since being in government the Coalition has refused to index TSMIT to inflation and notably absent from Tuesday’s announcement, was any reform to index TSMIT to inflation to ensure the integrity of the new visa scheme.”
Dr Howe said the TSMIT ensures temporary visa holders have enough income to support themselves in Australia without needing to rely on welfare and charities. Many 457 Visa holders have been receiving wages well below those received by Australian workers for the same work.
“By implementing this salary floor, it was intended to decrease the pressure on these 457 visa holders to breach their visa conditions by working for employers other than their sponsor in order to support themselves independently,” Dr Howe said.
“The TSMIT has an essential role in ensuring the 457 visa is only used for skilled occupations and not for lower skilled occupations where there may indeed be labour shortages but not skill shortages.
“The TSMIT is a necessary regulatory lever to ensure that only skilled jobs are filled by temporary migrant workers on the 457 visa.”
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton said the government has addressed concerns about the integrity of temporary skilled migration by abolishing the 457 visa and replacing it with a new temporary visa “that supports prioritising Australian workers and is focused on addressing genuine skills shortages”.
“The current TSMIT will be retained under the new temporary visa,” the spokeswoman said.
Last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the 457 visa program would be “abolished” to ensure that “Australian jobs are filled by Australians”.
Under the changes, the 457 visa will be replaced with two new Temporary Skill Shortage visas – one of up to two years, with one opportunity for renewal. Another visa of up to four years can be renewed and provide a permanent residence pathway after three years.
Other changes to the system include tougher English language tests and a requirement to have a tax file number.
Critics argue that many of the occupations that remain on the eligible list are not areas of genuine skills shortages and that the retention of employer-based market testing suggests exploitation of the visa system will continue.
Some obscure jobs including goat herding are among the 200 jobs removed from the skilled occupations list, but the removal of scientists and ICT support technicians has raised concerns. Employer-sponsored visa applicants will also need to be under the age of 45 under the changes making executive recruitment more difficult.
The 2014 Azarias review recommended the replacement of the ministerial advisory council on skilled migration (MACSM) with a new tripartite ministerial advisory council to report to government on skilled migration issues and that the new advisory body should be supported by labour market data.
Michaelia Cash reconstituted the MACSM when she was the assistant minister for immigration in 2015.
Dr Howe says this did not create a genuinely tripartite body capable of providing independent and evidence-based advice to government. She says the eight-member committee was “stacked” with six people (now five) with an employer background or favourable view towards greater levels of skilled migration, one trade union member, ACTU president Ged Kearney and one independent member, Azarias.
Ms Kearney resigned her position on Friday citing the government’s failure to consult with MACSM over its new visa policy, rendering the advisory body irrelevant.
She said she would have “made it clear that the occupations that remain on the list, which include roof tilers, carpenters, joiners, chefs, cooks, midwives, nurses and real estate agents, do not accurately reflect the genuine labour shortages in Australia”.
Another core recommendation of the Azarias review was to acknowledge, as the OECD had pointed out, that employer-conducted labour market testing is not “fully reliable”, and in the Australian context has proven ineffective and “that the current legislative requirement for labour market testing be abolished”.???