Hundreds of offshore oil & gas jobs in Australia could come in jeopardy after the Federal Court ruled today the working visas for non-Australian nationals in the sector were unlawful.
In July 2014, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Michaelia Cash, implemented new visa arrangements for offshore maritime activities in the resource industry. The arrangement allowed companies in the sector to employ foreign workes involved in offshore resources activity in Australia, to work without a visa needed in some cases.
The effect of the Legislative Instrument brought in July 2014 was as follows:
- For offshore resources activities involving an Australian resources installation, fixed to the Australian sea bed – such as a traditional oil rig – a non-citizen will be required to hold an appropriate work visa, such a subclass 457 visa. A Maritime Crew Visa is only valid for work as the crew of a ship.
- For other offshore resources activity, it would not come within the migration zone and as such there will be no visa requirement.
The move had been disputed by the Maritime Union of Australia, and Australian Maritime Officers Union, which said it threatened Australian jobs by allowing cheap foreign labor into the country’s most profitable sector.
The unions were today successful in their Federal Court appeal of the Minister’s visa solution, as the Federal Court today the deemed July 2014 legislative instrument by assistant minister Cash, unauthorised and invalid.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said today: “The Federal Court has today restored faith and most importantly stability in the employment laws protecting ordinary Australians. This entire episode merely adds to the appearance to our international markets of a chaotic, dysfunctional Government in what is an essential and highly efficient and productive Australian workforce and industry. ”
He also acknowledged the fact that hundreds of jobs in the offshore oil and gas sector are in doubt and „it’s not as if the Government hasn’t had time to prepare.“
He also said: „This has clearly not been about skills shortages – what we’ve seen is hugely profitable companies operating in the offshore looking to import overseas workers on cheap rates of pay, who don’t have to pay tax in Australia and with no security checks or Australian-approved skills sets when we have hundreds of highly qualified and experienced seafarers who are ready to work and pay their taxes instead on unemployment benefits.“
Industry under threat
Not everybody is satisfied with the Federal Court’s ruling.
Both The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) and Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) have slammed the decision saying it threatens thousands of jobs in the offshore resource sector, both the small number undertaken by overseas specialists and the wider number of jobs occupied by Australians.
In spite of MUA’s claims that there is no skills shortage, APPEA has said many of that the oil and gas industry’s $180 billion worth of projects in Australia – and the Australians they employ – depend on the specialised work performed by international workers „who are critical to the safe and efficient operations of vessels that perform vital services such as pipe-laying, dredging and the installation of subsea equipment.“
APPEA went on: „The Maritime Union of Australia’s campaign against these specialised temporary workers is damaging the national interest and the long-term interests of its own members by putting projects at risk.
These highly specialised overseas workers are not taking the jobs of Australia workers, they are meeting the temporary needs of the massive resource projects that are helping to grow our economy.“
Self-interested & misguided
AMMA’s executive director Scott Barklamb said: „With a range of competitive pressures greatly impacting investment and jobs in the sector, AMMA notes that such self-interested, misguided union campaigns against all non-Australian workers can hardly have come at a worse time for Australia’s resource industry.
According to AMMA, KPMG research published this month, Workplace Relations and the Competitiveness of the Australian Resources Sector, reported that ‘Australia’s LNG producers are among the highest cost producers in the world’, with new project development being 26-30% more expensive than in Canada.
“Today’s outcome shows the maritime unions will pursue their own interests and agenda without any regard to the competitive and cost impact on the maritime sector, the offshore resources industry, and Australia more broadly,” Mr Barklamb says.
Both APPEA and AMMA have called for the Australian Government must move quickly “to provide certainty for the oil and gas sector” following the Federal Court ruling.