The manager of two Queensland meatworks says both sides of politics need to focus on engaging local jobseekers, rather than restricting requirements for foreign workers.
The comments came as the Federal Government announced anyone issued with a 457 visa from Saturday onwards could only stay in the country for 60 days, instead of 90, after their employment ended.
The changes followed a heated debate in the federal parliament, with Opposition leader Bill Shorten advocating tougher restrictions.
LNP Member for Dawson George Christensen entered the debate when he called for a ban on skilled foreign workers in northern and central Queensland.
During the mining boom 457 visa workers were in hot demand, particularly for meatworks, but following the downturn there has been less need.
Oakey Beef Exports general manager Pat Gleeson said now only about 15 per cent of his workforce were visa holders.
He believed both sides of politics needed to focus on engaging local jobseekers rather than restricting foreign workers.
“When the mining boom was at its peak we would not have survived without them [foreign workers],” Mr Gleeson said.
“I will say that the ones we put on 10 years ago, the majority of them now are Australian citizens … they have stuck with us, they enjoy working for our company and they are part of the furniture.
“As far as reducing them now though, I have no real issue with that personally, but the Government really needs to look at the root cause of why we are still getting a lot of these overseas workers in.”
Mr Gleeson suggested that in order to encourage more local people to join the workforce, there needed to be a stern approach taken to people who abused the welfare system.
“I get back to the root cause with the welfare and the ease of welfare and the welfare cheats … if you get your ducks in a row there, then definitely look at the 457 visa program,” he said.
“It is the age of entitlement and until the Government gets serious about that, I do not know where we will end up.
“I would like to see the Government get really proactive about chasing down these welfare cheats … once upon a time a job was a job, but now you hear this mindset of ‘That is not really what I want to do’.”
Meat worker’s union say hundreds will be affected by tighter 457 visa rules
Queensland branch Secretary for the Australasian Meat Employees Union Matt Journeaux said numbers are down but hundreds of workers are still employed in Queensland meatworks under the 457 visa program.
He said tight supply in the cattle industry had seen meatworks reduce shifts and lay off workers.
Changes to the 457 visas meant if workers are laid-off, they have 60 rather than 90 days to find a new host employer or face deportation.
“There’d be numerous people looking for alternative host employers,” he said.
“They would be deported, they would be sent back to their country of origin.. (if they cant find a new host).
“Typically a lot of these people have been in Australia for in excess of eight years, they have done two rounds of 457 visa applications, which is typically a four year term and if these people are stood down it would have a huge impact on them.
“Unfortunately the meatworks would not be able to do anything if the legislation was to shift.”
Visa debate ‘further tarnishes Australia’s reputation’
Meanwhile, Growcom chief advocate Rachel Mackenzie said all of the talk and debate around 457 visas was further compounding the damage already being done to Australia’s reputation as a welcoming place for overseas workers.
“Often backpackers are the people who come back as cashed up travellers in their middle age, bring their kids and spend a lot of money,” she said.
“We are basically saying ‘We just want to use you as a cash cow and we are not interested in the rest of the value that you provide’.”
However, she made a clear distinction between working holiday backpackers and 457 visa holders.
“I think we need to be really careful to separate the two, because I think there are very different issues,” Ms Mackenzie said.
“The working holiday visas and backpackers tend to do itinerant work, highly seasonal, very short term … so it can be intense bursts and then no work for periods in between.
“457 visas are a completely different kettle of fish, and our industry has not really had the capacity to utilise them because of the fairly strict rules around them.”