It was a certainty that a few employers would rort the 457 visa rules the moment they were introduced.
The visas were introduced to permit employers to employ labour from overseas where there was a shortage of workers with special skills within the local workforce.
It hardly fits that such a criterion applies to housekeeping but there is evidence that it is happening around the country where outsourcing, employing backpackers on contra deals for food and accommodation and straight out using the 457 visa to replace local workers at lower rates is quite widespread.
Without belittling the role of the housekeeper, any special skills required for such work can easily and quickly implanted in local workers.
United Voice has demanded Fair Work Australia and the Department of Immigration investigate after Jupiters Casino staff alleged their hours were being slashed and extra shifts given to cut-price workers on overseas visas.
Jupiters outsourced its cleaning, housekeeping and stewarding departments to Sydney-based Challenger Cleaning earlier this year.
United Voice’s Michael Clifford said, “We’re starting to hear of hours being slashed on a mass scale in favour of people on various visas who we’re told are working hours in excess of what they should be with no penalty rates or other entitlements.”
He said the union had been told that casual migrant workers were getting between 11 and 13 shifts, while cleaners, housekeepers and stewards previously employed by Jupiters were receiving as few as two shifts a fortnight.
Apart from any breach of any enterprise agreement that is in place, such action would infringe the requirements of the 457 visa.
Challenger Cleaning director Vadim Gurevich maintains, “All employees are paid based on the work they perform, not whether they are working in Australia under a visa.”
Irrespective of claims and counterclaims, the Jupiters’ case has highlighted the problem in the accommodation industry and the government needs to put more safeguards into the legislation.
The federal government has assured it will crackdown on the controversial 457 visa rorts, a move prime minister Julia Gillard said was designed to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue, with Australian workers at the back”.
“My focus has been on 457s because this is the area where there have been real concerns, for good reasons, that temporary overseas workers are being brought in and taking jobs where there were Australians ready, willing and able to do it,” Ms Gillard said.
Federal immigration minister Brendan O’Connor agrees saying there was evidence where employers had rorted the system. “Uniformly across Australia there are incidents of a minority of employers offending the sub-class visa to the detriment of local people,” he said.
Having been criticised for using the 457 issue as an election ploy, Mr O’Connor said work had been progressing on the changes for 12 months.
Fair Work inspectors would have greater powers to oversee the 457 visa program for skilled migrant workers, under changes mooted by the federal government. Workplace relations minister Bill Shorten said legislation would be introduced to parliament as soon as possible to extend the powers of the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman. He said inspectors would ensure compliance with the 457 scheme.
However, it seems employers will not be forced to check if locals are available to fill jobs before they import foreigners, under the federal crackdown on temporary skilled visas.
Mr O’Connor has confirmed that Australia has international trade obligations that forbid mandatory testing of the local labour market by employers seeking to bring in people on 457 visas.
How can this be?