In recent months a debate has been raging in the labour movement over the use of section 457 visas and what attitude the unions should take. There have been many points of view put forward.
Both the bosses and the union movement agree that we have a skills shortage. Whilst the shortages vary depending on the state and the industry in general it is agreed that Australia needs to address this crisis. Even employer organisations are pointing out that in the skilled trade areas we now have completion of apprenticeship rates 24 per cent below what they were in 1996.
The Howard government has been a major contributor to this crisis through its dismal record on funding for the TAFE system. For example in the 2003/04 budget there was no increase in funding at all for the TAFE system. Many state budgets have gone even further and actually delivered a decrease in funding in real terms. This reflects the policies of neo-liberalism being applied to our training and education systems both at the state and federal levels.
It’s been obvious that the bosses have also failed to invest sufficiently in training and in traditional apprenticeships to meet the demand for labour. The nature of capitalism is that most bosses have a short term approach to profit making and see training as wasted money, better put to use in lining their own pockets.
Apprenticeships for years have also not been made attractive to young people, at the moment apprentices are barely paid more than the unemployment benefit and in many cases bosses use apprentices as another form of cheap labour exploiting their vulnerability and not providing them with thorough on the job training.
The reason Howard is now supporting an increase in skilled migration is that he is being put under pressure from employer organisations to provide pools of cheap and unorganised labour to fulfil the needs of big business. The other reason bosses argues for higher immigration of skilled labour is that all of the costs of training have been paid for overseas.
It is clear that in general the two major parties support the needs of big business over the needs of working people, whether those people are Australian or migrants. Both the Liberals and Labor support globalisation and the exploitative policies of neo-liberalism. These policies force many workers in the so called ‘third world’ to seek decent wages and conditions in countries like Australia.
Globalisation causes social and economic problems both for Australian workers and migrant workers. Only the bosses benefit if workers blame each other for these problems. Instead of letting the bosses play migrant workers off against Australian workers the trade union movement should be aiming to recruit these workers to our ranks ensuring that they we are all getting the same wages and conditions. This would cut across the bosses’ tactic of ‘divide and rule’.
The Australian labour movement should support the call for all migrant workers to be entitled to the same working conditions and living conditions as Australian workers. This would ensure migrant labour would only be used by bosses when it is absolutely needed and not as a way of undercutting Australian wages and conditions.
Under capitalism the bosses are free to move capital to wherever it makes the highest profit whilst workers are forced through immigration controls, including visas, to work where they are going to be most heavily exploited. This is the case with section 457 visas.
We are now living in a very competitive global economy and as the bosses aim to increase their profits, workers will be facing increased levels of exploitation right across the world. It is all the more important now that just as the bosses have ?globalised?, we in the labour movement must do the same. An injury to one is an injury to all.