Bid to bypass visa dispute

The Abbott Government will attempt to clear the way for companies to employ foreigners in some roles around major projects in WA's booming oil and gas industry in a move that is likely to infuriate unions.

Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash will concede today the coalition may not be able to repeal a Bill pushed through in the dying days of the Labor government that demanded employers on offshore pipe-laying vessels seek to employ Australian workers first.

The Government will instead try to change regulations to allow pipe construction vessels to use workers on maritime crew visas - so companies will not need to staff a ship with Australians.

"I want to see visa service delivery that meets the needs of employers without overburdening them with red tape, while ensuring that migration delivers social and economic strength, prosperity and unity," Senator Cash will tell a resources conference in Perth.

In 2012, the Federal Court ruled that foreign workers on pipe-laying vessels working on the multibillion-dollar Gorgon gas project were outside the migration zone and did not need Australian work visas.

The decision angered the powerful Maritime Union of Australia and last year the Gillard government introduced laws to recognise that anyone taking part in an offshore resources activity needed a visa.

The Government has little chance of repealing the Bill because it does not have the numbers in the Senate.

Instead the Government will regulate to allow the use of Maritime Crew Visas, which have less onerous requirements in terms of pay and conditions.

But the Government could again face problems as the Senate could vote down the regulations.

This week, WA Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan claimed any change to laws would cut Australians out of well-paid jobs on floating LNG production platforms such as Royal Dutch Shell's Prelude project.

The West Australian

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