A LEGISLATIVE instrument issued by Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash will allow foreign workers employed in Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry to continue to work without a visa.
The instrument effectively restores the situation that existed prior to 29 June 2014 – before the enaction of the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Act 2013 by the former Labor Government.
The changes mean that any non-Australian citizen working on a resources installation fixed to the Australian sea bed – such as a traditional oil rig – will be required to hold an appropriate work visa, such a subclass 457 visa.
There will be no visa requirement for foreign workers employed on any other offshore resources activity.
Senator Cash issued the instrument after the Senate voted to disallow the Government’s Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Regulation 2014.
The regulation, introduced in June, made three types of visa arrangements available to offshore workers, including the Maritime Crew Visa, which currently is only valid for work on the crew of a ship.
The disallowance, moved by the Greens, was supported by senators from Labor, Palmer United Party, the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir and the DLP’s John Madigan.
Speaking at the introduction of the disallowance motion, Greens Senator Penny Wright said the proposed changes would mean it would “not matter if no locals are employed on that project and it (would) not matter if those people are employed on half the wages and inferior conditions than usually apply under Australian law.”
“To justify what it has done, the government is making Chicken Little claims about what will happen if local workers are protected—but the claims are untrue,” she said.
“The immigration minister can simply choose to fix the problem immediately by issuing a new regulation that provides for those workers to have an alternative visa that requires companies in Australian waters to comply with Australian minimum workplace standards when they employ local or overseas workers.”
Senator Cash said the success of the disallowance motion meant that any person working offshore who was not an Australian citizen or permanent resident would be in breach of their visa conditions immediately if they continued to work, even if they held an appropriate work visa.
“The Coalition Government understands the importance of this industry and the jobs it creates for Australians and therefore we have moved swiftly to rectify the state of uncertainty deliberately created by the Disallowance Motion,” she said.
“Labor Senators capitulated to the ideological demands of the most militant union in Australia in a move that plunged our domestic oil and gas industry into an avoidable state of uncertainty,” she said.
The union to which Senator Cash referred, the Maritime Union of Australia, labelled the move underhanded – saying it would cost jobs and tax revenue.
Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Dave Oliver said the instrument was being used to exploit workers.
“It was there to bring in Filipino, Indonesian seafarers not on Australian wages and conditions,” he said.
“It will allow overseas workers to work for up to three years straight in the oil and gas zone without a visa that has Australian labour law as the legal basis underpinning their wages and conditions.”
But the Australian Petroleum, Production and Exploration Association welcomed the legislative instrument, after earlier saying Labor’s support of a disallowance motion created great uncertainty and risked vital, specialised, construction work in the industry.
“The issuing of a Legislative Instrument today means overseas workers engaged in vital offshore resource activities will continue to be legally entitled to work in Australian waters,” it said.
“Australia’s oil and gas industry is too important to be held to ransom by the militant Maritime Union of Australia.”
The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) also applauded Senator Cash’s move, saying the disallowance motion had created chaos and uncertainty for thousands of workers at sea.
“It is entirely sensible and appropriate we return to the arrangements which were in place up until Labor and the Greens started to do the MUA’s bidding to make a calculated mess in this area,” AMMA executive director Scott Barklamb said.
“This is a straightforward, job-supporting solution to a highly complex and damaging problem.”