The waterfront is set to become a legal minefield with the maritime union seeking the right to sue companies who overlook locals in favour of migrant workers.
WA's Australian Maritime Union head Chris Cain said he planned to seek an Australian jobs clause in upcoming enterprise bargaining agreements with 14 companies.
The clause, which has never been used before, would force the companies to ensure there were no available qualified Australian workers before they hired a foreign applicant on a 457 visa.
While the Federal Government's Jobs Board already seeks to give Australians first chance of scoring resource jobs, the union wants to shore up the protection by making the failure to do so punishable in court.
Mr Cain said the union would do this by linking the EBA to a memorandum of understanding that would give both parties the right to resolve breaches in the Federal Court. Breaches could also be pursued through the industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia.
"What it means is that people in Australia who have qualifications to do a job, will get the job over foreign workers," he said.
The Federal Government's jobs board was introduced in June this year in a bid to salve union concerns about Enterprise Migration Agreements, such as Gina Rinehart EMA for up to 1700 workers on the Pilbara Roy Hill project.
MUA assistant secretary Will Tracey called off a protest by five unions in June after the Government gave an assurance that employers would have to advertise vacancies locally before seeking an EMA.
Resource industry lobby group AMMA said the proposed clause was unnecessary, and could open up another industrial flashpoint between some employers and militant unions.
Chief executive Steve Knott said migrant labour was only used as a last resort because it was a more expensive option for employers.
However, employers needed full access to the option, partly to prove to financial backers that labour shortages would not stop projects from meeting scheduling deadlines.
He said some research anticipated there would be up to 90,000 skills shortages by 2015, largely in the oil and gas sector. "In the new world of enterprise bargaining we are seeing unions encroach into something we call management's right to manage," Mr Knott said.
"It's another level of regulation that employers don't need, and it is an area of expertise that unions don't have.
"It's an area that could become a flashpoint for industrial action."
An industrial expert said the clause would have legal standing if both the union and employers agreed to include it in an EBA.
Formal negotiations for the 14 EBAs are due to start within three months.
What it means is that people in Australia who have qualifications to do a job, will get the job over foreign workers. "Australian Maritime Union leader Chris Cain