Temporary migrants banned from trucking in industry rebuff

By: Jason Whittaker

Restrictions on the use of so-called 457 visas to allow temporary foreign heavy vehicle drivers into the transport industry will

Restrictions on the use of so-called 457 visas to allow temporary foreign heavy vehicle drivers into the transport industry will hurt employers, the industry says.

Pleas by the trucking industry to maintain the use of migrant workers to meet a crippling driver shortage have been rejected by the Federal Government, which has accepted recommendations from its working group to ban access to the visa program for drivers.

The Trucking Industry Working Group reported to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship it should remove the industry’s access to the Temporary Business (Long Stay) Subclass 457 visa for drivers.

A one-sentence statement from the Minister, Chris Evens, confirms "some road transport drivers" were removed from the list of eligible occupations from July 1.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) was a member of the working group but its representative was not present at the meeting which decided on the recommendation.

The ATA wrote to the Government rejecting the findings to no avail.

ATA chief Stuart St Clair is disappointed.

"We think it has closed off an avenue that we wanted to be available," he says.

"We never said it was the panacea; we never said it was the answer. But if this option is available, why shut it off?

"We are disappointed, very disappointed. But it doesn’t mean we won’t stop pushing on it."

Only "slight" growth is expected in truck driver vacancies over the next five years, according to the findings of the working group, with most new vacancies arising from people changing jobs or leaving the industry.

Just 4 percent of vacancies represent new jobs being created, it says, defying traditional logic that a shortage of drivers will hamper growth in the industry.

The report says the subclass 457 visa does not provide a permanent solution to the skills shortage in trucking.

"The industry requires a more permanent solution and the focus needs to be on a commitment to domestic recruitment, training and retention strategies," the findings say.

The report recommends the Minister and his Department work with the industry to "foster alternative domestic solutions to labour shortages for drivers" and support "ongoing initiatives in the recruitment, training and retention strategies for trucking drivers".

The Minister has announced a number of other changes to the 457 visa program, cracking down on employers who exploit foreign workers.

Punishments of up to 10 years in jail and $110,000 in fines will be handed down to employers found to be exploiting migrant workers.

Employers will be named and shamed if found to be in breach of their obligations where non-compliances have not been remedied or for repeat offenders, according to the Minister.

The names and records of companies using the 457 scheme will also be subject to increased sharing between government agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office to improve compliance and ensure whether visa holders are receiving the correct pay and services.

Furthermore, administrative sanctions including the cancellation or suspension of an employers’ entitlement to sponsor 457 visa workers will remain.

The reforms are expected to be legislated by September.

The uncapped temporary skilled migration program will exceed 100,000 places in 2007-08 but these temporary visa holders are currently not entitled to a range of government services available to residents and citizens of Australia, such as health and welfare benefits.

Evans says the intention of the Bill is to clarify sponsor obligations and provide further fair and transparent mechanisms for temporary workers from overseas.

Did you use 457 visas? Are migrant workers necessary to fill driver vacancies? Send us your feedback.

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