Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the Government will not fill the skills shortage with immigration if there are Australian workers who can be trained or relocated to fill employment demand.
Ahead of today’s jobs forum in Canberra, Ms Gillard said fly-in/fly-out programs may have to be streamlined to help workers retrenched from steelworks find new skilled jobs in mining.
She said the Government is determined to ensure the unemployed can be trained to meet the demand for jobs in Western Australia’s mines before skilled migrants are brought in.
In 2009 the Government cut the skilled migration intake to 115,000, but in the May budget Treasurer Wayne Swan announced an increase of the program to increase migration to regions of need.
Next year, 16,000 extra migrants will be allocated to regions and industries where local skills cannot meet demand – such as mining.
Despite the apparent contradiction in policy, Ms Gillard insisted Australian workers will take precedence over migrants.
“We don’t want to leave a kid in Kwinana in Western Australia on the unemployment queue without skills while the people who operate big mines in the north-west of the state say can you import a plumber or a cook or an electrician for me,” Ms Gillard told Radio National.
“I want that kid to get that opportunity.” Winding back on skilled migration is a key part of a wish list the unions will be presenting to the Government at the forum.
Investing in skills Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney said many unemployed, experienced workers are available.
Citing a union survey, Ms Kearney said a lot of highly-skilled older men between the ages of 45 and 55 are finding it very difficult to get work.
She said measures need to be taken to help them relocate to fill the high demand for skilled jobs in other regions and she was critical of mining companies’ demand for skilled migration.
“The reason we are in this mess at the moment is that the mining industry has not invested in skills,” she told ABC News 24.
“They are not training apprentices; they are not training their workers.
For years they have neglected this important part of their responsibility as an employer.” Ms Kearney said unions are now asking mining companies to invest in skills rather than demand short-term skilled migration.
She said the union’s priority at the forum was to enshrine job security in workplace laws.
“We want to make sure we are talking about decent jobs, secure jobs, jobs where people can predict the hours they are going to work, can predict the income they are going to earn each week so they can manage budgets,” she said.
Ms Kearney said large companies must be required to disclose who they source their products from and “whether or not they are giving Australian companies a fair go”.
“We can offer some tax incentives for people to use locally made goods in their corporations,” she said.
“A research study was done recently that showed if a large corporation increased local content by 15 per cent – just 15 per cent – they would save 1,000 jobs.” But Jobs Minister Chris Evans warned against any form of protectionism or reducing skilled migration numbers.
He noted jobs are “moving north and west” and there are some areas which are “doing it tough”.
“We are in a strong economy with low unemployment but those challenges of a patchwork economy are serious and talking about them and working with the key parties is what we are doing today,” Senator Evans said.
‘Naming and shaming’ Australian Workers Union (AWU) national secretary Paul Howes went further, calling for the “naming and shaming” of resources companies
that did not use Australian-manufactured materials on their projects.
“At the moment, many Australian manufacturers don’t even get the ability to tender for this work and often there is government money going into these projects,” he said.
“When Australian taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on these projects, I think Australian taxpayers expect Australian taxpayers to come first.
“It is unacceptable that these mining companies won’t open up their books.
It is a case of naming and shaming them.” Despite this week’s tax forum being open to the media, the jobs forum will be held in camera and it is unclear if any communiqu will be issues afterwards.
The Reinvent Team would like to thank Yahoo7 where this article first appeared.