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Published 14 June 2012 04:03, Updated 14 June 2012 04:15
Movers and shakers: Shortfalls may affect miners but workers won’t shift states Rob Homer
Even though unemployment rose to 5.1 per cent in May from 5 per cent, it remains below last year’s high of 5.3 per cent and, it seems, Australia remains blessed with good economic luck by global standards.
Still, recent events, including the government’s decision to let Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia import 1715 skilled and semi-skilled workers from overseas in the same week as engineering and technical services company Hastie went under, standing down 2700 workers, have only highlighted perceptions of the economic wheels spinning at different speeds.
While it would make sense for the suspended Hastie tradies and engineers to jump on a plane and wing their way to Roy Hill, things aren’t that simple. Well, not in Australia, anyway. This country seems to display less enthusiasm for internal labour migration than other countries, both rich and poor, have shown in recent years.
Recruitment company Clarius Group says Australia is short of 7000 engineers. Yet even if there are insufficient professional staff to meet needs, the inclusion of semi-skilled workers among those Rinehart is encouraging to migrate suggests something else.
It may be an age thing. WA premier Colin Barnett told the AFR one likely reason retrenched workers on the east coast didn’t move to sites such as the Pilbara was because they were older.
“Many of the people losing their jobs are probably older workers, many in their 50s, maybe even in their 60s. They’re at a time in life where they’re unlikely to move,” he said.
It may also be because Australian companies follow a global trend of not recognising qualifications that immigrants bring to these shores. The International Organisation for Migration says there are 86 million migrant workers around the world. Countless numbers of them, including in Australia, do work below a level for which they are trained.
Brisbane recruitment consultant Heather Macindoe says many engineers from countries including Iran, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have come to Australia legally and had their qualifications locally recognised but are forced to drive taxis, make pizzas and clean because companies in this country demand Australian experience.
“If you gave me four weeks, I could fill those 1700 jobs with skilled migrants, with the resumes in our system,” Macindoe says.
All the while, Australia is raising the cost of labour by resorting to ever-increasing numbers of imports on so-called 457 visas. As the chart shows, workers from the UK and Ireland together make up almost one-third of the total and that proportion is likely to rise as Europe’s moribund economies show little sign of a turnaround.
For all the hype about the resources economy, the latest jobs data reminds us of another point. The numbers in question are not huge. In the three states most benefiting from the current boom – WA, Queensland and NSW – mining and related industries employ just 3.9 per cent of all people in work. As the ABS puts it, professional, scientific, public and health services industries employ more than seven times as many people, at about 28.7 per cent of the employed population.
In some parts of the country, there are not even enough workers to do basic jobs. In March, there were reports that Melbourne bus operator Ventura was recruiting drivers from Ireland, along with stories that the city’s taxi operators were rounding up to 1000 would-be drivers from recession-hit Greece to ease the great cabbie shortage.
There simply may not be the same level of desperation in Australia to force people to move.
Where migrant workers come from: Top 15 countries for 457 business (long-stay) visa applications granted in 2011-12 to 30 April 2012 by applicant type
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