The Australian industry is up in arms in regards to the recent Employment Migration Agreement (EMA), sparking what is being labeled as ‘class warfare’.
The Australian first agreement will see 1700 foreign workers hired on the $9.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore project, which is owned in the majority by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting. In a move that is suggested to worsen the mining sector’s skills shortage, foreign workers will now have the opportunity to share in the wealth of the mining boom, something that a majority of Australians outside of the mining sector are still not privy too.
However – it may be a limited share, which in itself is being speculated that it will bring with it a number of challenges. Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie suggests that foreign workers will raise unfair competition in the sector by agreeing to lower wages.
“I am worried that this is a move by stealth, ultimately by the mining industry, to reduce the cost of production by bringing in foreign workers, paying them half what they pay Australian workers while we have people sitting there looking for work,” says Wilkie.
Labor is, however, implementing a sub-committee to oversee EMAs, which will have the power to request regular updates from mine developers in regards to wages and working conditions, in addition to requesting the use of Australian materials in order to safeguard Australian workers.
In addition to this, the federal government has also promised to create a new Spreading the Benefits of the Boom subcommittee, which they promise will ensure the spread of mining related wealth to surrounding communities.
However, Australian Mines and Metal Association chief executive Steve Knott has warned that the government’s quick and highly thorough response plan may in fact cause more challenges for the sector, which he suggests already faces troubles due to skills shortages and foreign employee red tape.
“Temporary overseas workers are utilised to fill peak demand for skills or positions that can’t otherwise be met by the local Australian workforce,” says Knott. “If this process is made any more difficult, project deadlines will be put at risk – which in turn risks the creation of long-term jobs for Australians and further investment in the resource industry.”
The federal government is now in the difficult situation of being damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Only implementation of the interlinking initiatives will showcase their success or failure.