03/11/2014 - 11:22

IR reform returns, slowly, to agenda

03/11/2014 - 11:22

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Western Australia is feeling the effects of recent changes to workplace relations law, with 457 visa restrictions causing skills shortages in niche markets and a high level of industrial activity.

IR reform returns, slowly, to agenda

Western Australia is feeling the effects of recent changes to workplace relations law, with 457 visa restrictions causing skills shortages in niche markets and a high level of industrial activity.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledged to change 457 visa laws when the federal government unveiled its industry, innovation and competitiveness agenda in October.

The Gillard Labor government had altered the program 18 months ago, with modifications including the abolition of the living-away-from-home allowance, which particularly had an impact of WA’s resources industry.

Spencer Ogden country manager Ross Ellingham said it was tough to get the right balance for working visas –ensuring international labour had sufficient incentive to come to Australia, and that locals had an opportunity to secure work.

“The recent tightening is making it harder to get the best talent,” Mr Ellingham said.

“It’s great that they’ve (the previous federal government) done that to help Australians get work, but there’s certain skill sets that aren’t available in Australia.

“It’s making it harder for companies to get those skills to help grow their businesses.”

He said while Australia had a very talented workforce in the mining sector, innovations in oil and gas including fracking and shale gas required expertise from offshore.

In September, Business News reported that Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed WA accounted for 41 per cent of working days lost to industrial action in the June quarter, at a rate of almost 6.8 days per 1,000 employees.

That rate was the highest in five years, and amounted to a total of 8,400 days lost in the quarter, from more than 20,200 nationwide.

The Maritime Union of Australia has been particularly active in recent months, in October intervening through the Fair Work Commission to nullify an enterprise bargaining agreement between Aboriginal Maritime and its 41 employees.

The nation’s first indigenous marine company withdrew its non-union labour agreement after a challenge from the MUA.

Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Competition released its annual container stevedoring monitoring report, which highlighted the impact of labour outcomes as a possible driver of increased costs in the nation’s ports.

Higher costs would impact both export competitiveness and the price of imported products, leading the ACCC to call for enterprise bargaining agreements to incentivise productivity gains.

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