Union says current work programs need to change because they’re taking jobs from Australians and exploiting migrant workers.
By Amie Larter
Australia’s temporary work visa programs are having negative impacts on both Australian graduates and 457 workers, the nursing union says.
The impact of temporary migrant workers on the Australian domestic labour market was the focus when the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation fronted a Senate inquiry in June.
Annie Butler, assistant secretary for ANMF, explained that the organisation – which put forward one of 53 submissions on the topic to the Senate Education and Employment Reference Committee in April – has two main problems with the current system.
“We believe one of the significant reasons new graduates struggle to find work is the growth in temporary migrants with work rights,” Butler told the Senate hearing on June 19. “We are concerned that, progressively, employers are reducing graduate nurse employment in favour of a greater reliance on and utilisation of temporary overseas workers.
“[We also remain] very concerned about the absence of effective regulation to protect migrant workers – in particular the interface between employer sponsorship and visa regulations.”
Fewer jobs for Australian graduates
In 2013, there were 9012 undergraduate course completions, figures from the Department of Education and Training’s uCube state.
In the ANMF’s original submission to the Senate inquiry, federal secretary Lee Thomas drew the attention of the committee to the “sorry state of the employment prospects” for new nurse graduates, “with an increasing number struggling to find work”.
She said many of those – in the group’s view – were “unreasonably rejected for work by employers who use temporary work visa holders”.
Butler backed up this view when speaking to Nursing Review, suggesting that the use of the temporary migrant workers at the moment is not sticking to the original intentions and purpose of the temporary migrant worker scheme.
Despite a drop in the number of nurses working on the 457 visa overall, ANMF’s submission states the “temporary visa holders in nursing subclass 457, 442 and 485, along with international students and working holiday makers, constitute a significant and growing workforce that has an impact on the domestic nursing labour market”.
“We know [nationally] there are over 1000, possibly 1500, graduates who haven’t got jobs,” Butler says. “Approximately that number were here on 457 visas last year. We do believe that the temporary migrant workers scheme is not being used as it is intended at the moment. We believe it is being taken as a shortcut – that employers see it as a quick fix, rather than as an investment they need to make in our graduates.”
In a statement released prior to the Senate inquiry, Thomas said it was “unacceptable” that the economy fails to provide work for new graduates when employers continue to access large number of nurses and midwives on temporary work visa arrangements.
“The current policy that allows access to offshore labour when an Australian worker is available to fill a position needs to be addressed,” she says. “We accept that there is a need for the use of temporary skilled migration to fill short-term shortages in the nursing and midwifery workforce, but the ANMF continues to call for strong policy and regulatory settings to ensure that employers are required to genuinely look locally for their nurses and midwives before going offshore for labour.”
Butler says the union still supports a proposal it spoke about with the federal and shadow health ministers.
“We have suggested a number of things. One [is the introduction] of a ratio-type situation, where if you employ a temporary migrant worker you also have a graduate position,” she says. “While we are not saying there is no need for a migrant worker scheme – and of course migration is just part of nursing globally and we support that – we would want to see it done much better. We think there should be better restrictions on how we use temporary visas and we want to see graduates better employed.”
Exploitation of migrant workers
The ANMF also raised serious concerns about the exploitation of migrants working as nurses in Australia.
While there have been improvements made since the Deegan Review in 2008, the group says there are still “serious deficiencies” relating to the temporary nature of the employment, employer sponsorship and the absence of any real form of labour market testing.
The ANMF put forward two witnesses at the inquiry that Thomas says highlighted “how the current 457 scheme was being cynically exploited by some local employers, particularly in the aged-care and private sectors”.
“Not only have these 457 workers been blatantly ripped off by their employer [who was] under-paying them, but they’ve also allegedly been asked to hand over thousands of dollars to help secure permanent residency,” Thomas said in a statement prior to the hearing.
One of the nurses who appeared before the inquiry originally came to Australia on a student visa and got an employer who sponsored her for the 457.
“I am here on behalf of my colleagues and the rest of the previous 457 visa holders who have had the same experience as mine,” she told the inquiry.
In her statement, she detailed being overworked and underpaid at a Victorian aged-care facility. The inquiry was told that four to five nurses at the particular facility were in the same situation – all underpaid by about $60,000 each. They were all also asked by the same employer to pay for visa application fees.
It was not until a colleague from another facility with the same employer complained to the union that the nurse and her colleagues on 457 visas realised they were being treated unfairly.
The Senate inquiry heard that, in the end, the nurse had resigned, along with the others in the same situation, because she felt “exploited, abused and unappreciated”.
Butler says the ANMF remains very concerned about the absence of effective regulation to protect migrant workers.
“We wanted to clearly put together a case for improvement in the regulations, not loosening of the regulations, which is what we believe the government is trying to do.
“There was tightening of the regulations around 2008 – but since this government has got in, they have conducted a number of different reviews and they are looking at – [in our view] – making it easier for employers to access these workers.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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