I have been working as a Registered Migration Agent since 1997 (MARNs 9795459 & now 0854799) – so around 16 years and there are times when I wonder if I’m somehow stuck on a slow moving amusement park carousel. Things move around but you inevitably end up right back where you started over and over and over again. On 24 November 2013 the Department of Immigration & Border Protection (DIBP) will reintroduce Labour Market Testing for sponsored Skilled Temporary Work visa – the UC 457 visa.
Previously Labour Market Testing was abolished on 1 July 2003 when the then Federal government deregulated aspects of this visa process. The feeling at the time was that the process used to test the labour market was flawed and that there was a disconnect between the evidence being requested and provided and reality. Having been down this pathway many times I can but agree. The process was a ludicrous bureaucratic waste of time and money. It was an unnecessary cost to Australian businesses that genuinely could not find workers to fill gaps from the local labour market.
So here we go again with all the normal assurances from those in charge. We will keep it simple, it just an ad or two in the paper, a light touch and nothing else required from employers. Really? It is not hard to spot the folk who do not have to survive in the real world of day to day business – politicians and I’m sad to say DIBP policy bureaucrats. In the past (and it will be so again) some/many positions attracted hundreds of unsuitable applications all of which had to be opened, read, responded to, put in schedules, their unsuitability explained, interviews were conducted, submissions sent to Immigration amongst other tasks – none of this of course took any time at all and hence cost nothing. I can vividly remember getting rafts of applications from recently redundant telecommunications workers with no relevant qualifications whatsoever for a position requiring a degree in Medical Science. It was absurd.
Back then (in 2003) the process ground to a halt, it was costly and eventually almost every stakeholder saw it as pointless; so it was abolished.
Today recruitment is a multi-media process – not just an ad in the paper. Employers already have significant costs associated with recruitment in general and the 457 application process and compliance in particular. This ‘new’ labour market testing process must, like all subjective policy, get bogged down in detailed policy and compliance guidelines. Subjective judgements by DIBP staff will then be applied to second-guess the needs of the business that actually needs staff immediately. Immigration staff that have never run a business or worked in a corporate environment will have the power to tell employers with decades of experience running all manner of businesses about whom they can and cannot employ.
Employers, and here I refer to the vast majority (not the unacceptable unethical minority) don’t go to all this cost and trouble of hiring a worker on a 457 visa because it is the easy thing to do. Most employers do it because they have to; they have a need to and most know their market and the labour that supplies it far better than any DIBP case officer can ever hope to. It is the only way they stay in business and pay their existing employees every week.
It never ceases to amaze me how ‘government – elected and employed officials’ have so little grasp of the financial realities of running a real business. So often we are told that changes will have neutral cost impacts or result in minimal time delays – only when you don’t have to pay the bills and see your staff burning up time to meet the whims of those who just don’t appreciate for example how many meals you have to produce and sell just to break even or how many plastic extrusions you have to manufacture, market and sell to be able to pay a single staff member.
Today I read an academic paper on the 457 visa and its history and a Chamber of Commerce response to current policy changes in the 457 visa area; quite different reading. Every day I meet employers who really struggle to find suitable qualified staff. Here I define suitable by the extremely basic criterion of actually turning up for work each day. These employers are not people looking to scam the system. These employers are just normal everyday people trying to make ends meet by running small to medium businesses. They are not setting out not to hire Australian staff. In fact the vast majority have almost exclusively Australian employees. Why do we allow our systems to be manipulated by a few who have specific political agendas, who certainly do not have the responsibility to run businesses and maintain employment of the majority of working Australians? This is not a game, it’s not a simulation, it’s the real world where unless revenue exceeds costs and expenses, businesses go out of business and all their Australian (and foreign) staff end up unemployed.
It’s so easy to form government and bureaucratic committees to dream up new regulations and requirements. Why not spend this time dreaming up ways to crack down on those who offend and abuse the systems and leave the majority of compliant employers alone to actually run their core business. Labour Market Testing will simply add costs and create delays – same old merry-go-round!