WA workers attending resources industry expo today lashed out at the Federal Government for giving Australian jobs to overseas workers.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen this week granted approval to allow mining magnate Gina Rinehart to employ more than 1700 foreign workers at her Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara.
Crowds of up to 10,000 people attended the Australian Mines and Metals Association Mining Oil and Gas Jobs Expo today, a two-day event held at Burswood Convention Centre.
As hundreds of prospective mine workers queued outside the venue, many expressed anger and frustration at the Government’s decision to permit foreign workers to work at WA mine sites when hundreds of locals were struggling to get into the industry.
Husband and wife, Glenn and Christine Hagan said they, and several of their friends had been trying to get employment in the mining industry for months but found it extremely difficult.
“It sounds easy enough, the mining industry needs workers and we are workers looking for a job in the mining industry, but it’s not easy it at all,” Mrs Hagan said.
“There are so many hurdles and qualifications we need and yet no one is willing to train us or qualify us.
“But they seem happy enough to take on people from overseas - it just makes me really angry that West Australians are loosing jobs to overseas workers, when there are clearly thousands of people ready and willing to work that are right here, living in WA.”
Paul Bradshaw and Julie Salusbury moved to WA from New Zealand less than a week ago.
The couple said they had made the difficult decision to leave their children and extended family behind in the hope of securing a job in the WA mining sector.
Mr Bradshaw said an influx of foreign workers would not only diminish their prospects but would drive wages down.
“We’ve seen it all before with Islanders coming to work in New Zealand and when I lived in the UK with foreign workers coming in. Wages go down and locals lose jobs” he said.
“We came here, away from all that but now we’re afraid it will happen here, all over again.”
Ms Salusbury added that it wasn’t just an issue of wages but of occupational health and safety too.
“With language barriers, different cultures—it is not just about money it is a big safety issue as well,” she said.
But AMMA executive director Minna Knight said fears of plummeting wages and priority treatment were all unfounded.
Ms Knight said Enterprise Migration Agreements that apply to projects such as Roy Hill, are not about replacing Australian jobs with migrants but rather a temporary solution to a nationwide skills shortage.
“The hiring of skilled migrants on temporary working visas is just that—a temporary solution until the capacity of the Australian workforce to fill all of these positions catches up with the rapidly growing resource industry,” she said.
“Despite the best efforts of industry and government to address the existing labour shortage in parts of the resource industry, filling some key skilled areas continues to be a problem.
“Accessing overseas skilled migration is a small, but important part of the solution to address current labour shortages.
“Temporary overseas workers make up only a small proportion of mining workers.”
Ms Knight also said that salary rates for overseas employers were required to meet the same rates as Australian workers.
“It is not a cheap or easy option for resource employers to bring in overseas workers and therefore, this only occurs when the supply from the local workforce cannot match the specific needs of a major project,” she said.