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CFMEU Apprentices

Young workers are missing out because of 457 visas: CFMEU


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By Mark Phillips

Editor of Working Life

Thursday, 23 May 2013

EMMA Champion realises she is lucky to have completed an apprenticeship in the construction industry.

The 23-year-old carpenter admits she is ‘daddy’s little girl’ and that it was his influence that got her interested in the building industry.

“Dad is a welder and a handyman – one of those blokes who can do anything,” she said.

Her dad’s best mate got her a carpentry apprenticeship in the residential sector, and she went on to finish it in commercial.

But Emma also knows that not every young person looking for a job in her industry will have the same good fortune.

In fact, doors keep closing for young people wanting to enter the building trades.

Between December 2012 and March 2013, trades apprenticeship numbers have dropped from 67,500 to 53,400.

Employers in the construction industry claim that skills shortages have forced them to look overseas, making use of the 457 visa system to bring in short-term skilled labour. In the 12 months to February 2013, Australian construction industry employment grew by only 1.1%, but the number of 457 visa holders employers had working in the industry actually increased by 25% to 14,080.

But it seems incongruous that employers are complaining of skills shortages while refusing to invest in skills and training in their own backyard by providing opportunities to young people to do apprenticeships.

The plight of young people in the building industry is the focus of a new campaign by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union. Emma and two other young people – Aaron Menzies and John So – are the faces of the campaign, and will feature on billboards at strategic locations in Victoria, Perth and Sydney.

The focus on apprentices is part of the CFMEU’s Let’s Spread It Around campaign, which aims to ensure that the benefits of the mining boom are distributed evenly around Australia.

The billboard ads will be supported by a social media campaign calling on Members of Parliament to support legislation which regulates 457 visas better and makes companies train apprentices as a condition of being granted permission to bring in 457 visa workers.

CFMEU National Assistant Secretary Dave Noonan said that the campaign highlights the growing concern in the community that young Australians are missing out on training and employment opportunities while companies are engaging greater numbers of temporary overseas workers.

“In the resources sector, as well as in commercial construction, young Australians can’t get a start or can’t get an apprenticeship, yet every year employers sponsor greater numbers of temporary foreign workers because they are too greedy to invest in training opportunities for our kids.”

Emma Champion wants the public to write to their local federal politicians if they agree that training for young Australians should be the priority.

“I was shocked to learn that employers can hire 457 visa workers to do trades work with no obligation to even offer the jobs to Australian permanent residents first.”

“We need to let our politicians know that they need to stick up for us and our futures.”

Meanwhile, a Senate inquiry heard today from unions about concerns that the 457 visa system has been abused by employers and this has led to exploitation of foreign workers brought in under the visa.

In its submission, the CFMEU said workers should have a legislated right of appeal if they miss out on jobs filled by foreign workers on 457 visas.

Parliament is expected to vote soon on a Bill which will seek to better regulate 457 visas.

The CFMEU is calling on all parties to support changes to legislation which will make companies prove that they can’t find a qualified worker and take on apprentices if they are seeking to bring in more than 10 workers on 457 visas.

Take action by sending an email to your Member of Parliament to demand government action to ensure companies train more apprentices and use fewer 457 visa workers.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


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We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. craig jones
    Thursday, 23 May, 2013 at 5:19 pm · Reply

    457 visa skills shortage like f–ck there is stuff all work out there what a scam by big business.

  2. P. Blight
    Thursday, 23 May, 2013 at 8:04 pm · Reply

    As Far as 457 visa go. 2 1/2 years ago i was an out of trade apprentice electrician (2nd year) While I cared for my late late father who has asbestosis. I have excellent refferences from previous employer and excellent school results (trade school). I am also a qualified motor mechanic with 20, yes 20 yrs experience (6 running my own company) I applied to EVERY SINGLE group training company in QLD, WA, NT, NSW and VIC. On top of that I sent out my resume via email to 157 employers in ONE WEEK ALONE. I then followed up ed them up with phone calls. I was prepared to pay my way to wherever to attend interviews, I have 4 plant licences,(1st aid etc) As well as7certificates for small business managment telecommunications, fit out and finish etc etc. I got 3 replies and ZERO interviews. The bloke who lives 2 doors up (from ireland a chippy on a 457) He had 7 months on the tools in ireland after being in IT for 4 years sent off 5 resumes to random employers in WA & NT got 4 replies 3 in WA & 1 in NTwith his air fares to WA paid for by an employer 2 of the 3 offered him a job as a chippy asking if he could start the next day. All accomodation, meals etc paid for. The bloke in NT offered him a job after a 5 min phone call.So an Aussie apprentice sparkie with 2yrs+ experience with great refs and prepared to pay his own travel etc can’t find work but a Irish chippy with 7mths?? experience and a 457 can not only get a choice of 3 jobs but with all expences paid. Simple answwer For each 457 employee the employer should be FORCED to employ AT LEAST 1 apprentice in the same trade.As that chippy is paid $19.36PH less than the ausie chippies the company is saving more than enough to cover an apprentice wage. 457s are being rorted anyone who says otherwise is either a liar or a fool. IT’S THAT SIMPLE. For the record I have other very simmilar examples of this.

  3. Jim Harris
    Friday, 24 May, 2013 at 11:00 am · Reply

    When a qualified Australian cannot get a job there’s got be something awfully wrong,Australians are a dying race,we need to stop the ILLEGALS and all migration post haste!!!

  4. Mike Williss
    Friday, 24 May, 2013 at 12:18 pm · Reply

    Jim, I accept your frustration at the circumstances described by P Blight. But racism has never served the working class.

    The ILLEGALS are the bosses who rort the system to push down wages, weaken conditions and rights on sites, and break the solidarity of workers and of unions. Australians are not a “dying race”. We are an expanding entity enriched by the progressive aspects of many cultures. When union leaders spoke at the Werribee rally against 457 visas, they attacked the bosses’ rorts not the people brought out here under this scheme. Please see the following report on that rally:

    Lots of countries are experiencing this offensive by the capitalist classes. Here is an article on exactly the same issue in a Canadian context:

    Stay united along class lines, and not divided by narrow nationalism and racism.


    • Tom
      Friday, 24 May, 2013 at 12:26 pm · Reply

      Mike Williss, you took the words right out of my mouth. Australia has benefited immensely from permanent migration, particularly since the Second World War, and we should welcome migrants from all countries. We are lucky to live in one of the best countries in the world, and we should extend our generosity and hospitality to asylum seekers fleeing persecution and conflict in less fortunate circumstances.

      BUT – we should be encouraging permanent, settled migration, not short-term fixes by bosses that seem designed for one thing only, and that is to undermine the pay and conditions and standards that workers in Australia are entitled to. I am not saying there should be a ban on all short-term skilled migration, but it is clear the system has been rorted by employers as a way of exploiting workers who have very few rights AND it is preventing hard-working Australians from having opportunities.

      It’s disgraceful that employers are not hiring apprentices and instead choosing the cheap and lazy way out by bringing in 457 workers, and we need to send a strong message to politicians along those lines.

  5. Cassandra
    Friday, 24 May, 2013 at 1:17 pm · Reply

    Yes it is the employer not the worker who is the exploiter of 457 visas.

    You can’t blame an Irishman who is forced to emigrate from his homeland to find work when his ‘exploited’ rate is better than the unemployment benefit at home. Of course he is ‘scabbing’ on Aussies who are available for that work but in these times how many workers would have any idea of what a ‘scab’ is?

    Our unions have allowed themselves to be quietly legislatively hog tied against taking any form of direct action and we are now fast approaching the situation of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s where the employers held the whip hand backed by State Governments that were undemocratically elected solely as the representatives of the landed gentry and the manufacturers.
    These days the State Governments though democratically elected unashamedly solely represent developers and business who fund their election campaigns and universally seek to restrict union representation.

    The failure of strike action in the 1800’s to achieve union aims (it led to jailing’s and heavy fines, imported ‘scab’ labour as well as being beaten up on the streets by police) led to the formation of the Labour Party to achieve through parliaments what we couldn’t get by protest.

    We made spectacular gains and the creation of Australia being the best country in the world for ordinary working people.

    The rot set in with the election of the Hawke Labour government (ironically led by a person who rose to fame in the Labour movement) which embraced right wing financial policies and set about placating employers and the media with the deceptively named ‘Accord’. Sure the country has expanded greatly since the mess left by John Howard and Malcolm Fraser but at whose expense?? The gap between rich and poor and the slide towards the present crisis for the low paid and unemployed started under Hawke and has accelerated under successive governments until the present Gillard Labour government.

    While the rest of the western world has followed right wing inspired financial policies that have devastated workers and the sick and needy our present government has resisted this trend to the outrage of Abbott, Hockey and the Media.

    We need to ensure that we go all out to get the Gillard government re-elected because we simply cannot afford to let Abbott and Co loose on what remains of our conditions and rights while we set about reforming a Labour Party in opposition. Lets reform a Federal Labour government because it will be our only hope of regaining what we have already lost and of setting out on building an Australia we can be proud of rather than a country serving the grasping needs of the mining magnates and foreign based corporations.

    457 visas? You ain’t seen nothing yet if the Liberals get into power Federally.

    And don’t rely on the Greens in the Senate to save our bacon. There is enough legislation already on the books including section 45D&E of the Trade Practices Act (remember that? Put in Fraser and Howard and STILL THERE!!) for Abbott & Hockey & Co to start their assault.

  6. Jennifer GJ
    Friday, 24 May, 2013 at 4:27 pm · Reply

    It is very important to emphasize that all Australians of whatever origin deserve and need a job.
    Some people are trying to muddy the issue by suggesting opposition to 457 visas is about race.

  7. George Naumovski
    Saturday, 25 May, 2013 at 12:58 pm · Reply

    Years back, people would trip over a job while walking down the street because there were more jobs than people!

    Some think it’s being racist if you want to stop migrant workers, but it has nothing to do with being racist, it about choosing your own “Australian born” rather than imported labour.

    Australia has a small population compared to other countries but we have more people then jobs and the jobs are being offshored.

  8. Cassandra
    Saturday, 25 May, 2013 at 2:16 pm · Reply

    The shortage of suitable jobs for the available workers is nothing to do with if you are an Australian or a migrant.

    It is do with an economic and political system that puts profit as the number one aim of society and that that insists governments are there to ensure the success of business rather than the success of the individual in the community.

    Read Aneurin Bevan’s “In Place of Fear” if you want a clear explanation of how our ‘democracy’ works and how the majority is continually hoodwinked by the rich and powerful into electing governments that serve them rather than us.

    Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per head of population and there is absolutely no need for any person living here not to have a roof over their head and three meals a day and all the other ‘benefits’ of an affluent society regardless of if they have a job or not.

    Don’t fall for the Abbott, Hockey, Newman line that the country is in dire financial straits – that is just Costello led economic bull dust to justify more attacks on government controlled services and workers pay and conditions. We could work for nothing and they would still reckon things were bad and profits not high enough!

  9. MPD
    Sunday, 2 June, 2013 at 12:38 pm · Reply

    I am in a similar position as yourself,cannot even replies to 99.99% of applications.Now I am on the dole for the first time in my life.Just demoralising and depressing.
    I even got an “Offer” to work Night Shift as a casual for less than a Day Shift permanent,the joke was that this employer had used “457’s” but found the damages etc were too great and he implored me to repair all the damage,machinary and public relations,for the same pittance he was paying his “457’s”!
    Was promised a job,uniform measurements taken,passed medicals,interviews etc and got an email @ 4.55 PM on the Friday before I was due to start @6.00 AM on Monday morning”Didn’t meet the requirements” This company,surprise surprise,has an abundance of Highly Skilled and Qualified “457’s”
    This is insanity!Unemployment is rampant,so what do our Leaders do??Open the floodgates to destroy local industries and workers!

  10. Ryan
    Saturday, 8 June, 2013 at 5:06 pm · Reply

    It is becoming increasingly obvious that Australian VISA immigration policy is being abused by unscrupulous employers. Through my own first hand experience and that of many others we are finding out that such employers are looking to profit in ways that are unfair to many tax paying Australians and their children. There are multiple VISA categories under which this is alleged to be occurring, but principally the concern is that there are insufficient safeguards in place to act as a deterrent to such unscrupulous business practices.

    Macro economic developments have seen Australia become very attractive to many overseas workers looking for greener pastures. If such macro conditions worsen and the pattern of Australia being resilient hold, there is no reason to believe that under current policy Australia will not be flooded with economic migrants. Some might say that the reciprocal agreements in place with other countries offset such imbalances, but this fails to recognise that economic cycles can span a life time or longer. Also failed to be recognised is that some businesses when unhindered by effective regulatory measures will resort to disingenuous means in an attempt to turn greater profits, especially when it can be done covertly.

    Some will no doubt say that these VISA jobs are good for “growth”. But should we be seeking economic growth without any consideration given to the spirit of the law? If legitimate skills shortages exist and no doubt this happens from time to time, shouldn’t there be incentive for employers to train Australians also? The stories of many and my own personal experience however points to contracting agencies and employers using imported labour because they will work for lower wages and are more “compliant” (easily manipulated?). My own experience also tells me that many VISA workers are collectively proud of the ways in which they are manipulating the Australian VISA system, especially as it relates to working holiday VISAs and the rural work requirements. By the same token we do remember that Australia is a young nation accepting of the responsibility to help our international neighbours who will accept such help in good faith. In fact Australia has a very strong record of supporting our international neighbours in times of hardship.

    Statistics on how this issue is affecting Australias future are proving hard to come by given that many VISA applicants also bring with them “partners” and other dependents who work in Australia. This site offers a place to share stories on this topic and help to form an overall consensus of the extent to which Australia is becoming affected by this issue.

    We all have our faults but if we can learn from our mistakes then the most progressive is the one that gets back on track first.

  11. Ryan
    Saturday, 8 June, 2013 at 5:10 pm · Reply

    Its not just 457s that are a problem. Its is the working holiday visa granted to 18-30 yr olds. These immigrants on working holiday Visas are taking jobs from our youth who may be trying to work there way through uni or just make ends meet supporting a young family. Insanity

  12. Paul
    Friday, 21 March, 2014 at 10:59 am · Reply

    You lot make me laugh. You all had your time in UK etc. and can’t stand the thought of anyone coming here to work. Hypocrites beyond belief.

  13. joe blow
    Wednesday, 18 June, 2014 at 12:06 am · Reply

    417s are also getting rorted. I heard of 3 professional qualified 417 positions getting rotated between recruitment agencies every 6 months for the same position, which they are only allowed to have for 6 months. The positions are supposed to be degree qualified, but it seems likely the 417 visa holders are not.

    Moreover they seem to be taking the place of professional locals because they are cheaper. Also, recruitment agencies might also only be sending those on 417s to the interview, possibly some sort of kickback scheme where they get extra bonuses and finders fee if they find a 417 employee rather than a degree qualified local, again because they are cheaper.

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