23/05/2008 - 09:10

Minimum salary lifted up for 457 visas

23/05/2008 - 09:10

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The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, today announced that Minimum Salary Levels (MSLs) for temporary skilled overseas workers will increase by 3.8 per cent from 1 August 2008.

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, today announced that Minimum Salary Levels (MSLs) for temporary skilled overseas workers will increase by 3.8 per cent from 1 August 2008.

The increase is part of a package of reforms outlined in the Budget designed to improve the integrity of the temporary skilled migration (457 visa) program.

"Minimum Salary Levels for temporary skilled migrant workers have been frozen for more than two years and previous increases applied only to new entrants," Senator Evans said.

"This increase will apply to new temporary skilled migrants coming to work in Australia as well as those already in the workforce who are subject to an MSL.

"The 3.8 per cent increase is based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics all employees earnings increase for November 2006 - November 2007.

"It increases the safety net for skilled migrant workers to help preserve their earnings power and protect them from exploitation in the workplace."

The change will increase the current standard MSL from $41,850 to $43,440 per annum. For ICT professionals, the MSL will rise to $59,480 from $57,300. In regional areas, the MSL will rise to $39,100 (from $37,665) and $53,530 (from $51,570) for ICT professionals.

If an industrial instrument, such as an award or agreement, prescribes a level of salary that is higher than the MSL, then this is the salary that must be paid under Australian law.

Senator Evans said the MSL change could apply to up to 24,000 temporary skilled workers, depending on whether their employer had made any upward salary adjustments since their arrival in Australia.

There are currently more than 68,000 primary 457 visa holders working in Australia, most of whom are professional employees on incomes higher than the MSL.

The Department will directly contact employer sponsors affected by this change prior to August. The Department will also run an information campaign to inform existing visa holders of the change.

"The 457 visa scheme is important for the continued economic growth of Australia and we must ensure that the community supports the program," Senator Evans said.

"We need to protect migrant workers from exploitation and ensure the wages and conditions of Australian workers are not undercut."

Senator Evans said that a Bill will be introduced into Parliament late this year to better define employers' obligations and employees' rights under the temporary skilled migration program.

"The legislation will create a robust monitoring and civil penalties framework for employers who do the wrong thing," Senator Evans said.

"We intend to expand the range of sanctions that may be imposed on unscrupulous employers by allowing the department to pursue financial penalties against employers who breach their sponsorship obligations.

"Currently, the department can only cancel or suspend an employer's approval as a business sponsor of temporary skilled workers.

"Penalties may range from $6,600 for an individual up to $33,000 for a corporation.

"This legislation, which is expected to be introduced into the Parliament in the spring sittings, goes further than that introduced by the previous government in providing a stronger monitoring and compliance regime for the
457 program as well as a number of other temporary visas."

Senator Evans said better information-sharing across both the government and the community would make the program more transparent and support the monitoring regime.

Stakeholder feedback on the proposed provisions of the Bill and associated regulations will be sought shortly.

"These measures build on reform already underway following the report of the business-led External Reference Group (ERG) and will complement work undertaken by industrial relations expert, Ms Barbara Deegan," Senator Evans said.

A comprehensive information strategy will also reduce the potential for exploitation by promoting awareness of rights and obligations of 457 visa holders and employer sponsors.

This strategy includes producing information packs in common community languages and face-to-face information sessions for new and existing visa holders.

"An expanded outreach officer network, as recommended by the ERG, will assist employers and other stakeholders to better understand the program and the application process," Senator Evans said.

"Complementing this, employers will need to make a personal declaration that they understand their obligations under the program.

"I want better information supplied to help employers get access to the program. Lack of information or understanding will be no excuse for the few who do the wrong thing."

In other reforms, DIAC and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations will establish a formal inter-agency framework for considering labour agreement proposals.

 

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