26/03/2015 - 12:11

Offshore worker visa changes invalid: Fed Court

26/03/2015 - 12:11

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The Australian Mines and Metals Association is calling on the federal government to fix uncertainty in the offshore oil and gas sector after the Federal Court reversed an earlier decision to allow changes to foreign worker visas.

Offshore worker visa changes invalid: Fed Court
Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association is calling on the federal government to fix uncertainty in the offshore oil and gas sector after the Federal Court reversed an earlier decision to allow changes to foreign worker visas.

The changes, introduced by the Abbott government, aimed to make it easier for foreign workers to be employed on offshore oil and gas projects.

Today, the full court of the Federal Court declared that the federal government’s attempt to change visa regulations in a ministerial determination, which was put forward by Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash, was unauthorised and invalid.

“The parliament’s intention was to confer upon the minister a power to except or exempt particular activities or operations carried out under the Offshore Petroleum Act or Offshore Minerals Act, not to reverse the parliament’s desire and intention to bring within the act non-citizens who are engaged in operations and activities under (either of the acts),” the judgement read.

In September, the Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Maritime Officers Union challenged the measures, which were introduced in July, but the challenge was thrown out by the Federal Court in September.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the decision today meant that hundreds of jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector were in doubt, but it wasn’t as if the government hadn’t been given time to prepare.

“The Abbott government has clearly outlined their agenda for employment in this important segment of our economy without regard to existing employment law or consequence,” he said.

“The Federal Court has today restored faith and most importantly stability in the employment laws protecting ordinary Australians.”

Mr Crumlin said the MUA didn’t have a problem with a temporary migration program that genuinely filled a gap in skills and properly engaged in market testing.

“This has clearly not been about skills shortages; what we’ve seen is hugely profitable companies operating in the offshore looking to import overseas workers on cheap rates of pay, who don’t have to pay tax in Australia and with no security checks or Australian-approved skills sets, when we have hundreds of highly qualified and experienced seafarers who are ready to work and pay their taxes instead on unemployment benefits,” he said.

AMOU president Wayne Moore said the Senate made the right decision in the middle of last year to protect Australian jobs by blocking the Abbott government’s attempts to flood the offshore oil and gas sector with cheap foreign labour.

“We need to maintain our maritime skills base and ensure the viability of Australian jobs in the offshore sector,” Mr Moore said. 

AMMA executive director Scott Barklamb said the Federal Court's decision jeopardised thousands of jobs in the offshore resources sector.

"Due to the maritime unions' crusade against any non-Australian person working in our offshore resources sector,  the industry is again thrown into uncertainty and the government is again forced to find a quick fix to a legislative mess unnecessarily created by Labor and the unions," Mr Barklamb said.

The AMMA said it was estimated that only 2-3 per cent of the entire offshore resources industry workforce was comprised of non-Australian nationals, and those skilled workers were often critical to a great number of flow-on jobs held by Australians.

It argued that the MUA's original campaign was targeting specialist sub-sea pipe laying vessels that, before Australia's migration zone was extended by the Labor government, never even entered Australian waters.

"A small number of permanent crew members travel on these specialist ships from country to country. Ironically, when in Australia thee vessels pick up upwards of 120 Australian workers - or abou 85 per cent of the entire crew - to perform the majority of work on Australian projects," the AMMA said.

Mr Barklamb said the maritime unions were essentially posing great uncertainty and risk onto the entire offshore sector, when their main issue was with a couple of specialist ships that employed hundreds of Australians anyway.

"Many vessels employ all Australians, others may employ a small number of 457 visa holders on Australian conditions, and some international vessels doing short contracts retain their predominantly European crews permanently, and use Australians for the bulk of other work," Mr Barklamb said.

"All this work supports Australian jobs and a globally competitive Australian maritime industry.

"Today's outcome shows the maritime unions will pursue their own interests and agenda without any regard to the competitive and cost impact on the maritime sector, the offshore resources industry, and Australia more broadly."

Senator Cash said the government was considering the court's judgement.

"The government recognises the importance of the offshore resources industry to the Australian economy and will act to restore certainty in the sector," she said.

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