Senate investigating Australia’s temporary working visa system

As cases of rorting and exploitation of workers on 457 visas continue to surface, the Senate has voted in favour of an inquiry into the working visa system.

The Senate passed a motion on Tuesday, March 24 to launch the investigation. The upcoming inquiry is backed by recommendations from the Greens and Labor, who have raised their concerns over the current migrant worker conditions, entitlement and rising local unemployment.

Deputy Leader and workplace relations spokesperson for the Greens, MP Adam Brandt said, “With rising unemployment and a mining investment boom coming off the boil, now is the time to ask whether the current working visa system strikes the right balance…We may wake up when the mining boom is over to find out that we’ve missed an opportunity to skill up locals.”

A similar inquiry was commissioned by Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Michaelia Cash, last year. Following recommendations from the commission, the Abbott government announced a number of changes to the migration system to ensure transparency and integrity.

Unions are backing the new investigation saying that this will be a broader inquest and will look into not just 457, but also working holiday visas and other temporary arrangements that allow nearly 1.1 million foreign nationals to work in Australia.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said, “The Senate Inquiry is a positive step towards ensuring foreign workers are not being exploited and that employers are genuinely trying to hire Australian workers first. With unemployment sitting above 6 per cent and youth unemployment at around 14 per cent, the government should be strengthening the rules for employers to hire local workers and investing in skills and training.”

On the other hand, the Australian Industry Group said that the new inquiry was “a waste of Senate time and resources”. Chief Executive Innes Willox called the abuse cases rare and believes that the recent toughening of the 457 rules will make them even rarer.

A spokesperson for Richard Miles, shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, confirmed that the independent inquiry had not explored the condition of foreign workers under all available temporary visas.

Findings from the new inquiry are expected to be released by June 22, 2015.

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