Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Organise section 457 visa workers!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In recent months a debate has been raging in the labour movement over the use of section 457 visas and what attitude the unions should take. There have been many points of view put forward. The following is the text from a leaflet written by trade union members in the Socialist Party and distributed at a rally in Melbourne.


Both the bosses and the union movement agree that we have a skills shortage. Whilst the shortages vary depending on the state and the industry in general it is agreed that Australia needs to address this crisis. Even employer organisations are pointing out that in the skilled trade areas we now have completion of apprenticeship rates 24 per cent below what they were in 1996.

The Howard government has been a major contributor to this crisis through its dismal record on funding for the TAFE system. For example in the 2003/04 budget there was no increase in funding at all for the TAFE system. Many state budgets have gone even further and actually delivered a decrease in funding in real terms. This reflects the policies of neo-liberalism being applied to our training and education systems both at the state and federal levels.

It’s been obvious that the bosses have also failed to invest sufficiently in training and in traditional apprenticeships to meet the demand for labour. The nature of capitalism is that most bosses have a short term approach to profit making and see training as wasted money, better put to use in lining their own pockets.

Apprenticeships for years have also not been made attractive to young people, at the moment apprentices are barely paid more than the unemployment benefit and in many cases bosses use apprentices as another form of cheap labour exploiting their vulnerability and not providing them with thorough on the job training.

The reason Howard is now supporting an increase in skilled migration is that he is being put under pressure from employer organisations to provide pools of cheap and unorganised labour to fulfil the needs of big business. The other reason bosses argues for higher immigration of skilled labour is that all of the costs of training have been paid for overseas.

It is clear that in general the two major parties support the needs of big business over the needs of working people, whether those people are Australian or migrants. Both the Liberals and Labor support globalisation and the exploitative policies of neo-liberalism. These policies force many workers in the so called ?third world? to seek decent wages and conditions in countries like Australia.

Globalisation causes social and economic problems both for Australian workers and migrant workers. Only the bosses benefit if workers blame each other for these problems. Instead of letting the bosses play migrant workers off against Australian workers the trade union movement should be aiming to recruit these workers to our ranks ensuring that they we are all getting the same wages and conditions. This would cut across the bosses’ tactic of ‘divide and rule’.

The Australian labour movement should support the call for all migrant workers to be entitled to the same working conditions and living conditions as Australian workers. This would ensure migrant labour would only be used by bosses when it is absolutely needed and not as a way of undercutting Australian wages and conditions.

Under capitalism the bosses are free to move capital to wherever it makes the highest profit whilst workers are forced through immigration controls, including visas, to work where they are going to be most heavily exploited. This is the case with section 457 visas.

We are now living in a very competitive global economy and as the bosses aim to increase their profits, workers will be facing increased levels of exploitation right across the world. It is all the more important now that just as the bosses have ‘globalised’, we in the labour movement must do the same. An injury to one is an injury to all!

The Socialist Party stands for:

Training and jobs

– For all workers to be entitled to the same decent wages and conditions
– For all workers to have the right to join a union
– For Section 457 visa workers to have the same rights as Australian workers including the right to free healthcare and education
– For an increase in funding to the TAFE system to pay for free places
– For an end to low paid, “no future” traineeships. We need a living wage for all students, apprentices and trainees. For all training programs to be worked out and overseen by democratically-elected committees of trade unions and community representatives.
– Ensure full time jobs are guaranteed on completion of training. No to deregulated and ‘in-house’ apprenticeships. For employers to be responsible for funding all training programs and related costs

Fair treatment of migrants and refugees

– Oppose all discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. Workers have more in common with other workers internationally than they do with any boss.
– For unions to recruit migrant workers to their ranks and not collaborate with the bosses and the state dobbing in ‘illegals’ to the immigration department. Fight the bosses not migrants
– For an increase in immigration to boost the economy. For all migrants and refugees to be allowed to stay, not just those who are deemed to provide the bosses with more profits.
– For all detention centres to be closed immediately – jobs, healthcare and education for workers and refugees – not jail.


– Solidarity amongst the labour movement throughout the world to fight the agenda of the bosses and global capitalism.
– For Australian unions to form links with and actively support, through solidarity boycotts and industrial action, workers in struggle internationally.
– Create a regional federation of trade unions to co-ordinate workers’ solidarity and lift wage levels for all workers in our region. This will not only stop bosses importing workers purely to use as a form of cheap labour but also provide a disincentive to bosses to shift plants offshore.


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