Visa-skilled worker pay looms as key battleground at jobs summit

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said “there are a lot of big issues to discuss at the jobs summit, like skills and immigration, and we’re ready for that.”

Pushing to raise the income threshold for skilled temporary migrants would come up against demands from the hospitality industry or regional employers who find it harder to attract workers.

Average full-time earnings were $1,748 per week, according to 2021 data, or about $90,900 per year. They were only $63,336 for hospitality.

Widespread shortages

The chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Andrew McKellar, has warned that any “excessive increase” in the income threshold “risks inadvertently excluding occupations that might otherwise be eligible for skilled migration”.

“This could include occupations with widespread staff shortages such as chefs, auto mechanics and hairdressers, while disproportionately affecting businesses in rural and regional areas,” he said.

Restaurant & Catering Association chief executive Wes Lambert said that despite the SEEK jobs website listing a record 102,339 hospitality jobs on May 20, or about 40% of all its job openings, restaurants and cafes received few or no applicants.

“With only a few hundred cooks and chefs in the overseas immigration pipeline, the labor shortage isn’t getting better — it’s getting worse,” Lambert said.

A Grattan Institute report released in March recommended raising the income threshold for skilled temporary visas to $70,000 to prevent the exploitation of low-paid workers.

But he also recommended extending skilled visas to all jobs – as opposed to an ever-changing list of eligible occupations – using salary as the de facto indicator of skills.

Make up for lost ground

Grattan’s director of economic policy, Brendan Coates, said raising the income threshold too much would “virtually wipe out the entire cohort of the hospitality industry”.

“If the temporary income threshold were raised to $90,000, you would eliminate 60% of temporary skilled workers today,” he said.

However, he also said it was only because the income threshold had not increased for so long that many of these lowest-paid workers were covered. “Ten years ago, most of these people wouldn’t be on this system anyway.”

The previous Morrison government projected that net overseas migration was not expected to return to its pre-pandemic average until 2024-25.

The Business Council wants to sharply increase migration levels over the next two years to make up for lost ground during the pandemic, including raising the migration cap from its current level of 160,000 to 220,000.

The BCA also supported exempting highly skilled or higher paid occupations from labor market testing, but with additional testing for lower skilled occupations.

But Mr Wright stressed the need for employers to prove their efforts to recruit local workers, including by checking with relevant unions.

“Strong labor market testing should be the foundation of any skilled migration program,” he said.

“For this to work properly, unions, employers and government all need to play a role in assessing needs.”

Excessive costs

Mr McKellar said that “long processing times, excessive costs, confusing compliance measures and mandatory labor market testing make it extremely difficult for many employers to employ qualified staff”.

“To make the skilled migration system more accessible, we need to open up employer-sponsored migration to all skilled occupations and remove short-term labor market testing 482 [temporary skilled] visa program, especially for professions already deemed to be in short supply,” he said.

The Grattan report found that labor market testing – which requires sponsoring employers to advertise a job before sponsoring a visa worker – was a “complicated box-ticking exercise” that “does nothing to ensure the preference of existing workers”.

“Labour market testing should be abolished,” Coates said. ” It does not work. All of this just adds cost and uncertainty for businesses. If a company wanted to abuse the program — to get people to work in relatively low-paying jobs during a shortage — it’s already doing that. »

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