By Babs McHugh
Updated Mon 2 Jun 2014, 3:28pm AEST
The Federal Coalition is on a collision course with the Maritime Union of Australia over proposed changes to visas in the offshore oil and gas industry.
It plans to remove the requirement for workers to have a 457 skilled migration visa, a move unions say would cost local jobs.
On the very last day the Gillard Labor government was in power, it reintroduced the Offshore Resources Act (ORA).
The Act means skilled workers from overseas can only be accepted on a 457 visa which is administered under the Migration Act.
Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash says reintroduction of the ORA was rammed through Federal Parliament simply to appease the Maritime Union of Australia.
Senator Cash says it is too onerous, adds unnecessary red tape and is holding up the oil and gas industry.
“No consultation was undertaken before the ORA was reintroduced and I don’t think there was an understanding of the actual impact of regulating this environment.
“Under the Act, every foreign vessel that comes into our water, even if they’re only there with a highly skilled workforce to lay a cable, not stopping just laying a cable and getting out, they need a 457 visa.
“But international practice itself does not require these foreign workers in a highly specialised, very niche industry to have visas because they are so highly skilled.”
Senator Cash will send the ORA Appeal Act to the Senate within weeks but she fully expects it to be blocked.
To get around this, Senator Cash will implement a different visa system.
“In the event the ORA Repeal Act doesn’t get up, I am actually bound by the legislation to introduce a visa.
“But I haven’t just introduced a visa. I’ve introduced a visa the industry is already familiar with, knows how to utilise and would not literally add more red tape.
“So we’ve brought in new arrangements, as opposed to a new visa.
“Those workers will still have to have a visa, but it will be the existing Maritime Crew Visa, so there’s no additional compliance and no additional cost.”
The Maritime Union of Australia sees the move as nothing more than a sleight of hand.
And it doesn’t buy the argument it’s only about removing red tape for oil and gas companies.
Assistant secretary for the WA branch, Will Tracey, says the changes would impact on all workers across the sector not just pipe and cable layers.
Mr Tracey says he’s also concerned those on Maritime Crew Visas won’t come under the Migration Act.
“There’s no reason why this industry like every other shouldn’t fall under the Migration Act.
“We have a system that currently works, so these changes that are being suggested now, they’re not necessary.
“It’s a nonsense to suggest this is simply about getting skilled labour into the country.
“They can still do it under the current system. “
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