​Bishop Philip Huggins, Chair of the Melbourne
Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee.

With the Federal Government reportedly deciding to reopen a subclass 457 visa loophole, questions must be asked regarding the need for more s457 visas at this time in the economic cycle.

The s457 visa is designed to enable eligible employers to respond to short-to-medium-term skill shortages in their business that cannot be filled from the local labour market.

Unemployment of both a structural and geographic kind is a deep concern. Last week’s unemployment data shows the official rate is still at 6%, the highest for a number of years.

Recent work by the Brotherhood of St Laurence points additionally to concerning levels of youth unemployment. The youth unemployment figure is 12.2% nationally, up from 8.8% in 2008.

Moreover, if a new labour force is needed even in this context, there are some 20,000 asylum-seekers in the Australian community, mostly young and desperate to work who could fill any vacant places. Some of them probably come from the same poor countries from which employers will source labour for these s457 visas. Furthermore, allegations that two Melbourne companies have been exploiting low-paid Chinese workers were also reported in the media over the weekend.  (“Chinese plasterers exploited by rogue companies at two big sites” – The Age 15/3/14.) These allegations raise questions about providing more 457 visas.

Instead, we should be giving support to our own young people, giving them pathways through training to these employment opportunities. We have seen the despair of young people facing long-term unemployment. We want to give young people hope about a meaningful future, including the dignity of work.

Additionally, the World Council of Churches expresses rising concern for the plight of vulnerable migrant workers, most recently in a paper prepared for a forthcoming conference in Sri Lanka. An earlier paper was released in 2011.

Our duty of care to all people means we need greater clarity from the Federal Government as to the necessity for more of these visas and the proper protection of migrant workers who may be so employed.