12/11/2008 - 22:00

Pressure on business

12/11/2008 - 22:00

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BHP Billiton Iron Ore has been in negotiations for 18 months to get its labour agreement approved, which is the first step to be granted the right to employ overseas workers on 457 visas.

Pressure on business

BHP Billiton Iron Ore has been in negotiations for 18 months to get its labour agreement approved, which is the first step to be granted the right to employ overseas workers on 457 visas.

The labour agreements - negotiated with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship - were introduced as part of new legislation to crack down on companies exploiting the 457 visa system, and came into effect in October 2007.

"We're in that space and we couldn't believe it; we're not exactly Joe's Diner in the middle of Cue who are going to bring people in and potentially exploit them," BHP Billiton Iron Ore IR and HR manager, Dave Sproule, told the WA Business News forum.

"We can't run, we can't hide and we're not interested in that anyway, so please treat us differently.

"We were told 'no, we can't do it, use the template, go and conform'."

The labour agreement sets out the terms and conditions relating to both the engagement and employment of skilled overseas workers secured for temporary stay in Australia.

ISA Group director Noelene Merrey said the amount of time spent negotiating with government put added pressure on businesses.

"It's very time consuming and costly for the employer because it can take up to 18 months to get these guys [overseas workers], and this has to be absorbed by the company," she said

Australian Visa Professionals managing director Nigel Sanders believes the labour agreement concept could work very well if the process was simplified.

"In principle, the labour agreement could be a beautiful thing in that it can be customised to be state specific, address different rates of pay and target different industries," Mr Sanders said.

"It's just more about making that process more transparent, with very well defined criteria in terms of how to process the labour agreement and how the different parties such as DEWR and the federal government and the employer interact in all of that.

"The labour agreement could achieve a lot of the outcomes because it gives flexibility to the 457."

Firms that contract out overseas workers - previously allowed under the 457 visa business sponsorship route - are no longer permitted to do so unless they secure an on-hire labour agreement from the government.

Belmont-based labour hire firm Skill Hire was among the first in WA to receive a licence to hire out overseas workers to local businesses, while InterStaff International was recently awarded an on hire labour agreement, allowing it to bring overseas workers into Australian in more than 60 occupations.

Since the new rules were introduced, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has awarded on-hire labour agreements to 10 WA-based companies.

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