The federal government plans to establish a scheme to simplify the process by which hospitality and tourism operators employ foreign workers.
Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Bowen opened formal discussion on establishing a labour agreement template in January; the opportunity for stakeholders to comment has now closed and submissions will be considered before the department decides whether to proceed.
A spokesperson for Mr Bowen told WA Business News the aim of a labour agreement would be to help employers fill the labour shortage that existed in the industry.
“There are already 36,000 vacancies in the hospitality and tourism industry. Another 56,000 workers will be required by 2015, particularly in regional areas,” the spokesperson said.
“The labour agreement template will give employers more flexible and easier access to workers whose skills are hard to find in Australia, while upholding the standards of the visa system.”
Such an agreement could allow operators to employ workers not eligible for visas such as the subclass 457.
Tourism Council of WA chief executive Evan Hall said the industry in Western Australia typically lost workers to the resources sector.
“We are not the only industry facing labour shortages; mining gobbles up all the labour but still there are not enough workers,” he said.
As well as being high users of standard migration schemes, Mr Hall said mining companies had the capacity to establish their own labour agreements with the government.
“What we are trying to do is come up with a standard agreement for the whole industry that a small operator could access – because at the end of the day we are talking about resorts in Broome, hotels in Perth, small operations in Margaret River, for example, who are all desperately crying out for staff,” he said.
Mr Hall believed current visa options favoured other sectors and specifically excluded tourism and hospitality. For example, people on working holiday visas were able to stay longer if they were employed in ‘specified work’, which did not include hospitality or tourism.
He said priority was also placed on recruiting highly skilled workers.
“We want people who can do service with a smile and who are willing and able to engage in banter,” Mr Hall told WA Business News.
“These are skills that are highly valuable in the industry, but not the ones that you can get a piece of paper for.”
The government recently extended its seasonal worker program to include the recruitment of people from East Timor for housekeeping jobs in Broome.
Mr Hall said it had been a successful extension and was beneficial for WA employers.