THE Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) called for 457 visa holders to be barred from manning Australian ships, saying they were taking local jobs and endangering the coastal environment.

At a union rally held on Friday, June 17 Jarrod Morgan, an AMOU industrial officer said the positions of ship captain and deck officer should be removed from the list of occupations that allow people to obtain a 457 visa.
“457 visa holders in the maritime industry of Australia at the moment make up about 137 positions,” he said. “And we know we’ve got 90 unemployed members who could fill those roles.”“Get us off that list, we’ve got the labour to fill those roles and it’s something that should happen,” he said.

The Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) allows skilled workers to enter Australia to work for up to four years if they are sponsored by a business. The catch is that the business is only able to hire a foreign worker if it cannot find an Australian citizen or permanent resident for the job.

However, the AMOU argues that there are ship captains and deck officers with 457 visas working on Australian ships while there are qualified and experienced Australian seafarers who are available to do these jobs.

National vice-president of the Australian Maritime Officers Union Kerry Bullock put the situation in rather more poetic terms: “The tsunami of 457s and other visas is sucking the waters from the bay of our future and soon the great surge will arrive back on our shores,” he said. “It will not stop on the high water mark, and just affect shipping,” Mr Bullock continued. “It will inundate our landscape, it will permeate the fabric of Australian opportunities and wealth, and it is coming to a place near you very soon.”

Adam Roberts, a Port Kembla marine pilot told Lloyd’s List Australia ships were safer in Australian waters with Australian crews. “If you’re Australian, you’ve got an affinity for the environment, you grow up on the coast here, and you’re more likely to want to protect it and be more sensitive to the community needs,” he said.
“This is a nation of immigration, and I’m not against people coming here. But, if you’ve got a pathway for Australians to take, why would you exclude them to bring in others?”

A marine officer who flew to Sydney from South Australia to attend the AMOU rally told Lloyd’s List Australia foreign workers wouldn’t have the same level of care for the environment Australian seafarers would, as the sea is their “backyard”. He also expressed concern that foreign workers could be more easily pressured into pushing the boundaries of safety, for fear of losing their jobs and thereby losing their visa.
“When the government said they were stopping the boats, I didn’t think they were talking about Australian-flagged ships. “But, if I’m told to do something dangerous, I would just say no,” he said.

Robert McMahon, retired marine engineer, associate member of the Master Mariners said he was very concerned about the demise of the industry and 457 visa holders should not be allowed in shipping. “We’ve got foreign pilots piloting ships through the Barrier Reef. Now, we’ve got foreign officers in port in domestic vessels. Now, surely domestic vessels at least should be reserved for domestic seafarers,” he said.
“Most of the people are good, genuine seafarers, but there is a channel for the wrong people to come in. It’s going a step over the line to have domestic vessels manned by 457s. And, I think it is a risk.”

Australian Greens senator for New South Wales Lee Rhiannon gave a speech at the AMOU rally on Friday, saying it was “troubling for the fabric of our society” that foreign seafarers were employed on 457 visas when there were qualified, unemployed Australian mariners who could do the jobs. “We [the Greens] certainly stand with you for a vibrant Australian shipping industry,” she told the rally.
“It’s been so much a part of our history, and it’s extraordinary that we’re at this point,” she said, referring to the foreign crewed ships. “Where there is a genuine need for overseas workers, nobody’s blocking that,” Ms Rhiannon said.

A 21-year-old seafarer named Harlan said he was entering a bleak job market.
“I’m facing, along with my fellow seafarers, long-term unemployment. Not because I don’t have the skills or because I don’t want to work, but because the government sold my job and my future to the lowest bidder,” he said.

Source: Ian Ackerman/Lloyds List

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