It would be hard to have missed the commentary that has followed the minister’s recent announcement of an Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) for the Roy Hill Project in Western Australia. It is important to understand the facts of the EMA program and why it was introduced.
In a previous post, the rationale for EMAs was outlined in detail. A report from the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce in July 2010 recommended their introduction. Additional evidence has also pointed to the need for a migration option which guarantees large mining projects have the workers to proceed—for example, the Skills Australia interim report of 2011 on resources sector skill needs indicated that by 2016, Australia will have a shortfall of 89 000 skilled workers in the resources sector.
Let’s address the most commonly raised concerns about EMAs.
‘EMAs and the negotiations around them are secretive’
An EMA is a contract between the Australian Government and the project owner. A contract like this cannot be fully disclosed because it contains commercially-sensitive information. The EMA guidelines require that extensive consultation must occur with all key stakeholders before an EMA can be agreed. The department will publish projects which have an active EMA.
‘EMAs will take away Australian jobs’
This is untrue. The government’s priority is to ensure suitably qualified Australian job seekers have every opportunity to find work in the resources sector. To assist, a Resources Sector Jobs Board was created to help Australians find employment opportunities offered by the mining boom.
However, there is a large body of evidence that points to significant skills shortages in the resources sector over the coming years. This shortfall suitably skilled workers is compounded by the unprecedented demand for Australian minerals and resources and the high levels of capital expenditure that are flowing into the country.
The EMA program aims to lock in these large mining projects to ensure their viability. This helps secure Australian jobs and supports future Australian workers entering into the sector through training and apprenticeships, which are an integral part of all EMAs.
‘EMAs will undermine Australian working conditions and wages’
This is untrue. The Worker Protection Act 2008, introduced in September 2009, requires overseas skilled workers be paid the market salary rate and provided with the same terms and conditions of employment as an Australian worker doing the same job at the same place. This ensures two things—that the employment conditions of Australian workers are maintained and not undercut; and that overseas workers are treated fairly in the workplace.
Sponsorship obligations also require employers to pay the travel costs to enable 457 workers to leave Australia. There is, therefore, no incentive for businesses to reduce costs by employing overseas workers through the skilled program—skilled migrants supplement the Australian labour force, not supplant it.
‘EMAs will result in overwhelming numbers of overseas workers’
This is untrue. Let’s put the numbers in perspective here—the minister has approved up to 1715 overseas workers for the Roy Hill Project. Comparatively, there were around 91 000 subclass 457 visa holders in Australia at 30 June 2012. Overseas workers under this EMA, therefore, represent less than 2 per cent of the overall 457 program.
Further information on EMAs can be found here.
The EMA submission guidelines are located here.