“Migration must not be used as a union membership drive,” Willox said.
Abul Rizvi, who was deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration between 2005 and 2007, said people would “fall off their chairs” when they heard the proposal, saying he feared it would be viewed entirely through political eyes rather than in terms of policy.
Rizvi said Australia needed to take strong action to avoid falling into levels of exploitation seen in parts of Europe, the US, and the Gulf states, adding no one had tried what was being proposed by the AWU and he believed it would work.
“Unions are not part of the government, and, as a result people aren’t as fearful they will get deported if they complain. Secondly, we know the Fair Work Ombudsman is completely overwhelmed with the complaints they are getting,” Rizvi said.
Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said the summit would be an important forum to scrutinize a number of ideas and “agree upon the steps required to ensure our [vocational education and training] sector delivers the skills Australian workers and businesses need”.
“Our goal is building a bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce; boosting incomes and living standards; and creating more opportunities for more Australians to get ahead and to realize their aspirations,” O’Connor said.
Health and aged care have become priority areas in filling the national shortage, with employers calling on the government to temporarily ditch the requirement to advertise locally before recruiting from overseas, but Walton said this must stay.
“It’s in the national interest for Australians to fill Australian jobs,” he said. “If hiring an Australian isn’t possible today, employers should have to make sure it’s possible tomorrow.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recently backed a suggestion for the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility Scheme, which places Pacific Islander workers on Australian farms mostly, to be expanded to fill vacancies in aged care homes across the country.
A Labor-led parliamentary inquiry heard of multiple reports of exploitation of migrant workers on Australian farms, and Rizvi said Pacific workers who came to Australia under an expanded scheme risked being exposed to similar vulnerabilities.
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