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Monday, 07 September 2009 12:52

Overseas tech workers must get 'market rate': Immigration

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Immigration Minister Chris Evans has further tightened the rules for companies seeking to import skilled workers on short-stay visas, introducing measures to make sure employees from overseas don’t get ripped off - and that local workers aren't priced out of the market.

The requirements aim to ensure 457-class temporary visa holders get paid at the same market rate as their local counterparts. Tens of thousands of people on 457 visas work in the Australian technology sector.

This is the second time the Rudd Government has tightened the rules on 457-visas in less than two years, and follows a Howard Government initiative in 2006 aimed at clamping down on rogue bodyshops.

The new rules are expected to have a big impact on the local ICT market, which according the Australian Computer Society recruited more than 13,300 skilled technology workers into the country in 2007-08 alone.

The requirements are being put in place ahead of an expected surge in demand for skills across the workforce as the economy begins its recovery, with especially strong demand expected from the ICT sector.

“The Rudd Government has made it clear that temporary skilled overseas workers should not be employed ahead of local workers because they are a cheaper option,” Senator Evans said.

He said where there is an equivalent Australian worker in a workplace, the overseas worker must be paid the same rate – and if there wasn’t, the employer must provide the Immigration department with proof that the salary they are paying that worker is equivalent to a market rate.

Other measures include substantial new training requirements to make sure that large employers don’t use 457 visa holders to reduce training investments in local workers. Employers of 457 visa holder have to prove a strong track record in non-discriminatory employment practices.

The laws come into effect next week, and include the ability for immigration officers with investigative powers to monitor workplaces and conduct site visits, with companies found to be in breach liable for fines up to $33,000.

Recruitment specialist Paxus’ marketing director Amanda Miles told iTWire the changes had been expected, and that in the ICT sector, 457 visa holders were already paid at market rates.

Miles acknowledged industry scuttlebutt about cases in the past of rogue offshore supplying workers at below rates paid to Australian equivalents, but said she never thought the practice was widespread – or ever used by the local recruitment sector.

Paxus’ says it had brought probably half the number of skilled workers into Australia from overseas compared to a year ago – a direct result of the global financial crisis – but expected numbers to “quickly ramp up” in the coming months.

The local industry “also had the rare luxury of large numbers of returning expats” to fill local positions, Miles said. But those numbers of Australians returning home will also dry up as the recovery sets in.

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