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Chevron’s agreement with the federal Government to import 150 foreign workers for its Gorgon LNG project if it can’t find enough locals has angered a union, which says Australia’s labour shortage is a myth.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union’s West Australian secretary Steve McCartney says there’s plenty of available labour, now that BHP Billiton has curbed its planned Pilbara expansion and with jobs at Fortescue’s Cloudbreak mine winding down.

Additionally, there was a huge youth unemployment problem south of Perth that could be at least partly alleviated if Chevron were to train the semi-skilled, he said.

Instead, the US energy giant could spend up to four months arranging 457 visas for semi-skilled foreign workers, time that could have been used to train locals.

“It’s really short-sighted. I’m disappointed in the Government (for granting the visas) and Chevron,” Mr McCartney said today.

However, both WA Premier Colin Barnett and a spokesman for federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the imported workers represented “a very small number” considering there were more than 4,000 people working on Barrow Island, where the Gorgon project was being built.

“There’s nothing secret or unusual about this arrangement. It has been handled as per any other request through the Labour Agreement Program,” the spokesman said.

“We’ll be ensuring that Chevron and its contractors use the government’s Resources Sector Jobs Board to recruit locally before any overseas workers are brought in under the arrangement.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Bowen said the agreement for Gorgon had been approved earlier this year and required a high degree of proof from Chevron on the immediacy of genuine skills shortages, including evidence of ongoing and genuine efforts to recruit local workers.

A Chevron spokeswoman said the company’s goal was to source all labour from the Australian resident workforce.

She said the agreement was only a contingency plan.

If it was implemented, the 457 visa workers would receive no less than the rates of pay and benefits of Australian employees in equivalent roles, she said.