Subject: Australian Workers Union Raises Concerns Of Unskilled E. Timorese Workers

The West Australian

February 29, 2008

Timor labour plan raises new concerns


The Australian Workers Union, the State Opposition and growers say they are concerned at a State Government plan to bring in unskilled East Timorese workers to ease horticulture and tourism labour shortages in the States North-West.

AWU secretary Tim Daly feared the workers might be exploited.

"I dont think there are any altruistic intentions behind this. I have a nagging suspicion this is about compliance, about getting workers that are less demanding than Australians are," he said.

Mr Daly cited lower wages and lower expectations about safety and working conditions as possible motivations for bringing in the workers.

He was also concerned that "local wages" could be undermined.

"We need to protect the wage conditions that we have," he said.

The plan has divided growers in the North-West region.

Kununurra mango producer Lincoln Heading said Timorese workers would not be needed on his 400ha property.

"Labour shortages are very quickly satisfied by paying 75<cents> to a dollar above award. Other people dont consider its necessary to pay more but theyre the first people to whinge and moan that they cant get any labour," he said.

"We have had no problems filling our labour requirements for the last 18 months."

Mr Heading said bringing East Timorese workers into the region could even destabilise the local labour market.

"If they are being paid less, it disrupts our labour market," he said.

But Stewart Dobson, of grapefruit and mango growers Kimberley Produce, said any move by the State Government to provide more labour would be welcomed.

"We certainly have a labour shortage," he said.

Mr Dobson said he currently flew in workers from Victoria and went as a far as subsidising their accommodation.

Shadow employment protection minister Murray Cowper has doubts about whether bringing unskilled East Timorese into the country is legal.

To work in Australia, temporary foreign workers require a 457 visa.

Under the visa, only skilled migrants with relevant skills in industries with local labour shortages are eligible. Under 457, the East Timorese are not eligible to work in Australia.

The State Government wants to bring workers in under an occupational trainee visa, which does not require workers to be skilled, but requires them to undertake occupational training in Australia.

Mr Cowper is concerned the Government is using the visa as a way of circumventing the protection afforded to Australian workers by the 457 visa to bring in unskilled labour.

Mr Heading said likely duties for Timorese employed in horticulture would include, cleaning up, weeding, pruning, picking and packing.

Tourism Western Australia chief executive Richard Muirhead said tourism positions Timorese could fill included kitchen hands, housekeepers and cleaners.

The State Government has been invited to discuss further details of the plan with the East Timorese Government in East Timor between March 27 and 29.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan declined to respond to the concerns raised.

In a statement to The West Australian, she said the plan would be a short-term measure to alleviate labour shortages during the States economic boom.

"Tourism and horticulture will be very important for East Timor so they can establish viable industries and become self reliant," Ms MacTiernan said.

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