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April 2006   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Head On
John Buchanan has been warning that WorkChoices would be a car crash. Now he surveys the damage.

Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.

Industrial: Vital Signs
In his new book, Craig Emerson argues that destroying unionism will not be in Australia's long term interests.

Economics: Taxing Times
Frank Stilwell argues that there are progressive alternatives to the slash and burn approach to tax reform.

Environment: It Ain’t Necessarily So
Don't let anyone tell you that jobs and the environment are opposities, argues Neale Towart.

History: Melbourne’s Hours
Neale Towart reluctantly pays homage to Victoria's celebration of the eight hour day.

Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

Review: Pollie Fiction
For someone barely 25 years Sarah Doyle has an enviable track record in theatre behind her.

Poetry: The Cabal
Poetry returns to Workers Online with this rollicking ode to employer power.

C O L U M N S

Politics
Democracy in Action
Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.

Politics
The Westie Wing
There has been activity aplenty in the NSW Parliament this month, reports Ian West.

The Soapbox
From Chaver to Cobber
John Robertson, Unions NSW Secretary, hosting Passover at Sydney Trades Hall discovers the first comrades followed a bloke called Moses.

Postcard
Postcard from New Orleans
Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

The Locker Room
My Country Right Or In Lane Five
Phil Doyle observes the golden shower at the recent Commonwealth Games, and asks what it means for the last great unpredictable drama.

Obituary
Vale Bill Hartley
Unlike some of his comrades, Bill Hartley never departed from his position as a radical nor did he die rich in assets, writes Bob Scates.

E D I T O R I A L

The Cowra Clause
The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.

N E W S

 Abattoir Boss Slaughters Andrews

 More Slaughter in South Australia

 Pickets Won't Face Cannon

 Teens Win Thousands

 Praise the Laws

 Where The Bloody Hell Is Our Contract?

 Building Crusade Raids Pockets

 Workers Shows Its Hand

 It's All Yellow, Mine Barons

 Lismore Nine Breaks Ranks

 Uber Bosses Clean Up

 Howard's Skills Solution: Sack Apprentices

 Spineless Companies Block Safety

 Boxall in Sickie Backflip

 Activist's What's On!

L E T T E R S
 Crap TV
 Social Action
 French revolution
 Fan Mail
 Belly Spreads The Word
 All Out!
 Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
 Help Wanted
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Immigration

Opening the Floodgates


John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

*****

The story of labour market deregulation in Australia has centred on the Howard Government's new Workchoices industrial laws. But another factor has been at play for nearly ten years now and it represents every bit as detrimental an effect on our labour market standards - the deregulation of temporary work visa requirements.

In 1995, the Keating Labor Government appointed the CEO of Fujitsu Australia, Neville Roach, to conduct an enquiry into the rules surrounding the issuing of temporary work visas for foreign workers to access our labour market.

It was no surprise that Roach, an advocate of the key tenets of globalisation - the free movement of capital and labour across borders - came back with recommendations that 100 years of regulations should be swept away.

Before the ALP could determine an attitude to Roach's fast ball, the Liberals were elected and, within months, the new Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock, adopted the Roach recommendations in full. In the decade that followed, Australian workplaces moved from utilising less than 100,000 temporary work visas issued each year to nearly 700,000 in the financial year 2004 - 2005.

Has the economy or the workforce grown by 600%? Of course not - but guest labour on a major scale is finally with us in our cities, towns and regions, as Australian employers are thirsty for the cheap labour that temporary work visa workers very often represent.

Where are the 700,000 visas recently issued going? Nearly 400,000 are workers on business short stay and long stay visas who possess skills ranging from the semi-skilled (meatworkers, cooks etc) through to the highly skilled (scientists, doctors etc).

But it's not simply workers with skills - it's also the unskilled. More than 120,000 Working Holiday Maker visas were issued in 2004/2005, together with around 200,000 student visas (students can work up to 20 hours per week, more during vacations).

The day-to-day reality of this labour market surge is cafés, restaurants, hotels, major events etc employing youngsters from overseas on casualised rates. Fruit is being picked and labour performed from similar sources in rural and regional areas. And mostly it's non-union workers who have little understanding or care for the impact they are having on local working conditions.

In the case of back packers: 10 years ago about 25,000 came to Australia - today it's 120,000 and the impact on our labour market is more pronounced. But it's in the area of the temporary skilled visas where the impact on our labour market has been the greatest. And the reasons why need to be understood.

The Howard Government has abandoned labour market testing, i.e. the principle that local employers must seek to source labour locally before seeking to sponsor overseas workers. While Employers in regional areas are still nominally required to show that the position cannot be filled locally, local chambers of commerce oversee this process and it is a requirement on paper only. To add to the problem, the Government has stopped any serious enforcement of the legislative requirement that would-be sponsors have a good record of training Australians.

These changes, combined with a weak monitoring regime only introduced five years after the doors were thrown open by the introduction of Roach's new 'flexible' entry arrangements have resulted in the daily flow of media horror stories of the exploitation of temporary migrant workers now turning into a flood.

The sum total of the various changes equals the deregulation of entry of temporary foreign labour rules and unquestionably this development is now having a serious downward pressure effect on local wages and conditions in various parts of the country.

And isn't the hypocrisy of John Howard at its height around this issue?

Howard has sold himself to the Australian public as the man who has protected our borders - he told us he was not going to let a few thousand asylum seekers breach the integrity of our borders. What a load of bunkum - from the politician who has been quietly colluding with big business to allow a major surge of temporary migrant labour into the country.

And when you add into the mix that Howard has deliberately sat on a 1999 DIMIA enquiry recommending strong sanctions against Australian employers who mistreat guest labour and employ illegal migrant workers, it's clear the Howard Government has no qualms about serving only the profit motive of its constituency.

And all this from the Government that has presided over a training crisis in Australia. The skills shortage is biting in various occupations precisely because the Howard Government will neither commit the resources nor hold their business friends to account in training young Australians. Under funding of TAFE alone has cost 300,000 young Australians the chance to become skilled workers.

And as this mess unfolds, youth unemployment is still twice the national average. Young Australians desperate for apprenticeships miss out because of Government indifference and employer short-sightedness.

And, in the latest bizarre chapter to this story, we now have the Overseas Apprentices program where youngsters from distant lands are going to be brought to work as apprentices in regional and remote locations with up-front costs met by the family of the young worker.

So Australian employers will have yet another source of cheap, vulnerable overseas labour - the alternative to offering above-award attractive rates of pay to entice young Australians from the cities to the regions doesn't enter employer thinking. Why go down this more expensive route when there are cheaper sources of labour from overseas?

The bottom line is John Howard's Government stands naked on his policy failures in the area of training Australians and, conversely, his quick fix of importing ever greater numbers of vulnerable overseas workers.

John Sutton is National Secretary CFMEU Building and Construction division.


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