One of Australia’s most prominent union leaders has spoken out about the vulnerability of those on 457 visas.
Tony Sheldon heads the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and is vice president of the Australian Labor Party.
Mr Sheldon said that for some foreign workers, being on a 457 was like “a form of slavery”.
“What inherently happens with 457 visas, that when you’re under the threat of being deported if you lose your job within 28 days, if you turn around and raise safety issues, wage issues, rights issues and you’re threatened to be thrown out of the country, then that is a power and a whip that employers have over any 457 person,” Mr Sheldon said.
In recent weeks, The Irish Echo has highlighted the problems faced by temporary residents if their sponsor/employer decides to make them redundant.
Under the rules of the visa scheme, they have 28 days to find a new sponsor or must leave the country. If the visa holder has brought his or her family to Australia or, if the employer makes their job conditions untenable or sacks them for no reason, that worker is in a perilous position.
The Gillard government has, in recent weeks, taken aim at the tempoarary resident scheme which has ballooned in size since Labor won the 2007 election.
The Minister for Immigration, Brendan O’Connor, has said the scheme had “oustripped national employment growth” and needed to be curtailed.
Both he, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard, have spoken about making sure that Australian workers are ahead of 457 visa holders in the queue for jobs.
But their comments have led to unease that skilled migrants were being victimised for “stealing” Aussie jobs despite the fact that Australian employers continue to show their preference for imported labour and that the government itself is actively promoting the scheme at events like the recent Working Abroad Expo in Dublin.
More than 100,000 people are currently in Australia on 457 visas. They pay tax yet have no guarantee of permanent residency or, in most cases, access to Medicare. They can not vote and, in the case of New South Wales, have to pay thousands of dollars in fees if they want to send their children to state schools.
Mr Sheldon’s comments echo those of Irish skilled migrants. who believe that there is little protection for 457 workers if their employer – to whom they are indentured – decides to do the wrong thing.