By Olivia Garnett
Primary school children looking attentive, Jonathan Wood: Getty Images
Beginning next school year, skilled migrant workers will have to pay $4,000 per child, per year, to send them to public schools.
But for some rural communities this could knock out a good proportion of their school community.
Penny Goodwin, of the small wheatbelt town of Kalannie, says the influx of Filipino workers on 457 visas has been a massive boom to the community and the school.
“You couldn’t ask for a better group of people to come to our town,” she said.
“Originally it was just the workers and now we have got their families coming through. We have just been so excited.”
She is concerned this latest announcement out of the State Budget will break up the Filipino community of Kalannie forcing parents to send their children back to the Philippines for schooling.
“They are just so upset, the families have just literally moved their children over this year,” she said.
“Like I said the workers have been working for a couple of years, sending money home to the Philippines.”
The town of Kalannie is having a crisis meeting to see what they can do for their newest residents.
Penny says she hopes there may be a regional exemption from these new fees for rural residents.
Education Minister Peter Collier was not available for comment on the WA Country Hour as he was busy in Parliament.
However, he did send a formal statement to the program.
“The State Government has decided that all 457 Visa holders will contribute $4,000 for each child towards the overall cost of their education in a public primary or secondary school,” he said.
“If you break this down to primary and secondary, the contribution represents approximately 27 per cent of the cost of primary education and 20 per cent of the cost of secondary education. This decision is not without precedent and New South Wales also charges tuition fees for dependants of 457 visa holders.
“Details around implementation plans are currently being determined. The State Government will endeavour to finalise details as soon as possible and provide the public with detailed information.”
It seems this decision to charge skilled workers to educate their students in local schools is already having an impact on regional towns.
Ken Sharpe is the HR manager at an engineering firm in Kalgoorlie, who employs about sixty 457 visa holders across Western Australia.
Most of those on his books are from the UK and Ireland and most are based with their families in the mining town of Kalgoorlie.
They’re mostly tradesman – fitters and boiler makers – and a couple of engineers too.
Ken says his engineering firm have already lost two families since the announcement last Friday.
He says other workers are weighing up their options as many have yet to have their families join them as they wait for the Irish school year to finish.
“The result is they are probably not going to bring them out now,” he said.
“That means we get guys who are working on sites who, they are doing a quality job and they may not be focused, distracted, thinking about their families, missing them.
“It does not make for a sustainable work place.”
He says current economic conditions makes it too expensive for his company to absorb the education fee for its workers.
“To be perfectly honest I know Colin Barnett is bringing us into line with all the other states, if you do charge and do charge a little bit more.
“But if he wants to maintain the industry and maintain the skilled staff who came over here when Australia needed them.
“Then I think he could think differently on this and absorbing these costs himself rather than making the employee and the employer pay for it.”
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