Friday, June 1, 2012

Australia: open warfare breaks out over guest worker program

The incredible growth of the Chinese economy, what has been termed, the Chinese Industrial Revolution, has had a global impact as the Asian giant consumes commodities and raw materials from around the world.  China's growth has been a boon to the Australian mining sector as a source of raw materials.  Australia's exports of raw materials to China as a percentage of total exports has more than doubled in the last seven years (11.5% to 27.4% of total exports)  and this growth is expected to continue as new mining projects are planned.  One such project is the planned Roy Hill iron ore mine in central Queensland, a project with an estimated cost of $9 billion.

I am only visiting Australia and therefore not completely up to speed on Australian politics but an issue that is consuming the ruling class here is the skilled Labor shortage in the wake of this raw materials boom.  Recent legislation called "Enterprise Migration Agreements"  was passed in an attempt to overcome the Labor shortage.  But this immigration, these guest workers that the laws were written for, are not guarunteed permanent residency and are open to all sorts of abuses by the mining bosses.  They are immigrant Labor brought to Australia at the behest of the mining moguls, one of them being the richest woman in the world, Australian mining billionaire Gina Rheinhart estimated to be worth $29 billion.

One of the reasons for  the shortage of skilled Labor as the article below points out is that the bosses' don't want to pay for it.  Such Labor power can be had for a much cheaper price if it comes from China, Vietnam or any other country where workers are super exploited and desperate for work. This would be better than training Australian workers or building new communities in the areas where raw material is mined which costs money; this would solve the shortage.  Better import Labor that you can be rid of when it is not needed.

The whole affair has opened up a hornet's nest as sections of the capitalist class battle it out.  The mining moguls, the group of capitalists that stand to gain most, need the EMA's and need to convince their international colleagues who they hope will help fund the latest $9 billion mining project that all will be well; things will run smoothly and on time. They stand apart from the protectionists and their colleagues who face pressure from organized Labor and the working  class to hire Australians first which at times has taken the form as it often can of xenophobia and racism.  To listen to the mining  bosses you would think they had gone socialist on us:

"The racist innuendo and slurs against these (guest) workers is abhorrent and divisive and must stop" says Steve Knott, an executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association. The increased protectionist measures that will undermine the guest worker program are being "brought about by heavy influence the Unions have within the caucus" he adds.  The caucus is a Labor Party group that has pushed Labor Party leader Julia Gillard to set up a sub committee to oversee the guest worker program to ensure Australian jobs are not threatened.

David Peever, the managing director of the giant Rio Tinto mining company is so adamantly for internationalism, workers' unity and against racism and any other force that divides us that he "warned against the dangers of divisiveness" the Australian newspaper reports. "Divisiveness can have no future in the vibrant Australia to which we apsire where all Australians can be better off and continue to enjoy the unique fruits of this great land." Peever told his peers at the Miner's Council of Australia's annual dinner. This is from a capitalist class that barred black people from immigrating to the country in the past.

It appears the Labor Party is split on the issue with some supporting the immigration policy and some vehemently opposing it along with right wing elements. Some Labor politicians have attacked the "involvement of foreigners and 'Chinese' in the mining sector" the Australian reports.  Others have accurately described the immigration policy (the EMS's) as the mining bosses' attempts to lower the cost of prodcution by importing cheap Labor as Australian workers look for work.

Julia Gillard speaking at the Minerals Council of Australia's annual dinner told mining bosses that," don't own the minerals. I don't own the minerals. Governments only sell you the right to mine the resource. A resource we hold in trust for a sovereign people. They own it and they deserve their share." Ms Gillard neglected to mention of course that the mining bosses own the government; it is a government that governs in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole and protects the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.  Gina Rheinhart didn't accumulate $29 billion through a process of "fair share." Nationalising the mines would be a first step any Labor government should take in order to undermine the private control of such an important resource.

Another little detail I read this week is that the government of Qatar is purchasing another ten Australian farms amounting to some 40,000 hectares.*  The Qatar government now owns more than 240,000 hectares of Australian farmland that it has purchased in order to create some food security to offset a repeat of the food protests and riots that occured in 2008.  Historically, it has been food inflation or scarcity that fuels massive social unrest.  Food is quite important to humans.

It is not such a bad thing that areas of the world can be developed to provide food security for humans in areas less fertile but not on a capitalist basis which will only lead to xenophbia, racism and increased nationalism at some point.  World food (and all) production can and must be managed and directed on an international level through a global system of representative workers' bodies as representatives of a world federation of democratic socialist states.*( A hectare is 10,000 square meters or 2.4 acres.)

The article belowfrom the Socialist Alliance  explains in more detail the developments surrounding the Australian immigration policy.  This site is not affiliated with the Socialist Alliance and shares it here for our readers interest.

Scrap the Roy Hill mine Enterprise Migration Agreement, scrap 457 visas!

Training for young people and permanent residency for migrant workers: Not the 457 visa rip off!

Socialist Alliance statement May 29, 2012

The announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on May 25 that the Gillard Labor government has struck its first Enterprise Migration Agreement with mining multi-billionaire Gina Rinehart reveals just how eager this government is to serve the mining millionaires.

At the same time thousands of jobs are being lost in manufacturing, construction industries, retail and services. Skilled workers who have lost their jobs through redundancy in the car and steel industries are not finding jobs.

One government after another has stripped training and apprenticeship schemes to the bone, removed compulsory apprentice ratios from awards, de-funded vocational education and training, kept trainee and apprenticeship wages shamefully low, allowed companies (even those with government contracts and handouts) to drop apprenticeship schemes and privatised the institutions like Telstra and the railway workshops that used to provide tradespeople for the whole economy. No wonder there's a skills crisis, the bosses all want a skilled workforce but none of them want to pay for it.

Senator Chris Bowen's statement that 457 visas are essential to ensure that so-called “mega” projects in the resources sector, like the $9.5 billion Roy Hill project “come in on time and within budget” reveals the true agenda of a government which rules on behalf of the mining moguls. Their formula: save on training by bringing in "guest workers". These workers are held over a barrel because they depend on the boss for their visa. There are already plenty of examples of these workers being subject to super-exploitation and being used to put downward pressure on everyone's wages and conditions.

The Gillard Labor government should cancel the Roy Hill mine deal.

In his speech to the National Press Club where he announced the EMA, Bowen stated that from 2010 to 2011 there has been an 88% growth in 457 visa applications. He also said that mining represents one fifth of the 457 visa program, with 40% of 457s going to Western Australia, 36% more 457 visa lodgements than in same period last year (as at 31 March).

Bowen also stated that there are currently no limits on the number of 457 visas which can be issued, and that as at March 2012, 88,590 people held 457 visas.

Australia was built by migrants, and the expansion in both the mining and offshore oil and gas industries will need workers from both interstate and overseas.

 But there is no place in this country for a category of second class workers who can be thrown out when bosses don't want them anymore.

The problem is not migrant workers, but the rotten 457 system and other visa rorts the employers get up to. The migrants who made Australia home after the Second World War were given permanent residency with full citizenship rights. They became a vital part of our society and many of them became valuable members of the union movement. That's how it should be today. There is no place for racist blame-the-victim rhetoric.

As long as a temporary visa or "guest worker" system exists, bosses will use it to push down everyone's conditions. The trade union movement should demand that the Gillard Labor government scrap the temporary "guest worker" visa system altogether.

To add insult to injury, while skilled workers are being denied permanent residency and desperate refugees are locked up without trial indefinitely, the federal government is establishing a visa category offering a pathway to residency for the rich. All they need is $5 million spare to invest in the Australian economy.

In the immediate term unions need to recruit and organise 457 visa workers to protect them from super exploitation and to maintain industry rates of pay. If they are on union agreements and the same rates and conditions as the rest of the industry, then the bosses divide and rule tactic is neutralised.

Thousands of jobs are being lost in the manufacturing and construction industries, and in retail and services. Skilled workers who have lost their jobs through redundancy in the car and steel industries are not finding jobs. Over decades, one government after another has stripped training and apprenticeship schemes to the bone, has defunded vocational education and training, has kept trainee and apprenticeship wages at levels which are ashamedly low and has allowed companies (even those with government contracts and handouts) to drop apprenticeship schemes.

Gary Gray in defending the government's decision, told ABC's Lateline on May 25, "As you start building you may discover you need this particular welding skill or that particular scaffolding skill, that needs to be on hand and available right now," he said. Yet, according to the Federal government's own Job Outlook website, unemployment for structural steel and welding trades workers is above average, and for scaffolders unemployment levels are high.

We need a restoration of the apprenticeship schemes that have been whittled down by ALP and Liberal-National corporate profits-first governments. Mining corporations and other businesses making super profits should be heavily taxed to pay for apprenticeship and other training programs.

Major resource projects and other significant manufacturing enterprises which profit from the exploitation of local and overseas workers must be forced to sign up to social commitments. These must include union negotiated agreements, apprenticeship ratios, a guarantee of the same rates of pay as that of Australian workers in the worksite and access to permanent residency for any current 457 visa worker, as well as enforceable employment commitments for Indigenous people, unemployed youth and skilled workers who have been made redundant.

The social compact struck between the AMWU-CFMEU-ETU-MUA and a number of Aboriginal communities around the country to secure real training and jobs for young indigenous people are an example of how this can be done. However if companies engaged in these mega projects refuse to make such commitments they deserve to be placed under public control.

  • Scrap the Roy Hill mine Enterprise Migration Agreement
  • Scrap 457 visas
  • Full residency and industrial rights for migrant and guest workers
  • Restore apprenticeship schemes and ratios
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