While details remain confidential, it is believed Hancock is seeking around 1500 semi-skilled migrants such as scaffolders, riggers and bulldozer drivers for its new Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
A Department of Immigration spokesperson told MiningNews.net it received its first full EMA submission on February 7 and had made a committment to assess the application within three months.
The issue, which received air time on the ABC 7.30 report last Thursday, has upset the unions, specifically the CMFEU, which claims the schemes are being rorted.
However, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen dismissed the allegations, saying they were important to keep big projects moving.
“We need EMAs to cut red tape for very large resources projects which will have a very strong demand for labour,” he told ABC 7.30.
But unions say the current system of importing skills labour for resource projects is being rorted and are complaining things will get worse with EMAs.
“Greater safeguards are urgently needed to ensure Australian workers benefit from the mining boom and that workers on 457 visas are not exploited,” CFMEU national secretary construction Dave Noonan said in a statement.
He claims the current system is not properly monitored to ensure priority was given to employing local workers, did not require employers to train Australian workers, and weighted in favour of employers who simply wanted to import low-paid labour.
“Last night’s [Thursday's] 7:30 report showed how employers are abusing the 457 visas system to cut pay and conditions,” Noonan said.
“The Federal Government needs to act to make sure Australian workers are given first priority in employment on resources projects.
“They need to set up an online jobs board for all Enterprise Migration Agreements, so that Australians know what jobs are available.
“They must also impose a serious training obligation on all companies using 457 visas, to make sure they are also providing apprenticeships to train the next generation of Australian workers.
“We accept that some major projects will need some temporary labour from overseas, but we do not support guest workers being imported when Australian citizens are ready and willing to do the work.
“The bottom line is the companies wanting to recruit guest workers from overseas should be required to show that they have advertised the jobs to Australians, but have been unable to fill them.
“When employers lay off workers, they must be required to lay off 457 visa workers first. Otherwise employers will be able to use 457 visas to reduce wages and conditions.
“The upcoming budget must include funding for greater compliance monitoring of the 457 visa program.
“The government must also act to provide greater protection for 457 visa holders themselves, including access to workers compensation for injured workers when they return home.”
With the current 457 visas, employers are required to pay migrants the same market rate as Australians.
However, the CFMEU was reported as saying large numbers of workers brought in on 457 visas to work at CITIC’s Sino iron project near Karratha had been underpaid, with numerous complaints made to the Immigration Department.
It also put forward another example which surrounded the death of a 28-year-old Irish scaffolder Shaun McBride in a maintenance accident last year at Dampier.
The union claims a number of people working for that company were brought in on the pretext of being project administrators but in fact were employed as scaffolders.
The Minister told ABC 7.30 both cases of misuse of 457 visas were being investigated by the department.
ILN's sister publication MNN did contact Hancock Prospecting for additional comment, but was still awaiting a response at the time of deadline.
Based on the latest state growth outlook released late last year by the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy, it estimates an additional 33,000 workers, including engineers, metallurgists and tradespeople, would be required for the state’s resources sector over the next few years.
This has been backed up by Pit Crew Management Consulting Services founder and managing director Peter Dyball, who said the industry would require up to 34,000 labourers and engineers by early 2012.
This story first appeared on ILN's sister publication MiningNews.net.