Labor leader Bill Shorten will on Tuesday pledge to overhaul 457 visas to ensure that employers cannot use cheap foreign labour to replace Australian workers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will also be campaigning on employment, pledging to create 250,000 new small businesses – with a new $100 million fund.
Despite courting controversy in the past with an “Australians First” advertisment that was criticised as “too white”, Labor will argue that the 457 policy is a legitimate response to protecting workers’ pay and entitlements.
Bill Shorten’s Australians First jobs plan
The Labor leader has vowed to change the law if he is elected, to ensure that the lowest wage that a worker can be paid under a 457-style visa does not undercut the pay and conditions of local employees.
“Under the Liberals, everything is going up except people’s wages and too many local workers are being left at the back of the queue for local jobs,” Mr Shorten said.
“When businesses use overseas workers as a cheap replacement for local workers it contributes to wage stagnation.”
Unions will also be granted more powers to extend the current standing that exists for unions to commence civil actions for breaches of the Fair Work Act to include breaches of the Migration Act relating to visa work conditions.
A new Australian Jobs Test will also prevent labour agreements from being entered into unless they support or create jobs for Australian workers.
When Mr Shorten first floated the 457 reforms, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned him as a hypocrite.
“Mr Shorten’s hypocrisy on the subject of foreign workers is breathtaking. The highest number of 457 visas were granted when he was the employment minister,” Mr Turnbull said.
But it was a television advertisement released nearly two years ago that sparked internal tension after Labor’s frontbencher Anthony Albanese, labelled the ad “a shocker” because it had too many white people.
But Labor will argue that there are one million Australians who are “underemployed” and want more hours, while youth unemployment is at 11.7 per cent.
“At the same time, there are almost 1.6 million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia, with the top end of town turning to temporary work visas to undercut local jobs, wages and conditions,” Mr Shorten said.
“Despite this, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has done nothing but make superficial changes to 457-style visas without addressing the significant loopholes that exist in Australia’s visa system.”
The detail of the changes include increasing the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) – the lowest amount workers can be paid – immediately to $65,000 with annual indexing.
Mr Shorten said Labor will also close loopholes that allow employers to claim they are making that base pay by including the cost of sub-standard accommodation and inflated or excessive overtime hours.
Labor will also create a public register that outlines the number of visa holders engaged by individual workplaces and employers and require employers to provide their workers with a copy of the relevant collective agreement, award or labour agreement.
Labor to woo migrant families in Australia
On Monday, Labor also announced changes to family visas to woo migrant voters.
Labor is promising to slash fees, accusing the Morrison government of imposing “heartless, callous and cruel conditions” forcing families to choose between which parents or in-laws they reunite with by limiting the visa to one set of parents per household.
“Many elderly parents want to reunite with their families but have to travel to Australia as tourists – proving costly, frustrating, disruptive and exhausting as they ferry between countries,” Mr Shorten said.
New infrastructure funds
Mr Shorten will also confirm Labor will replace the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) with a new fund that will help build infrastructure projects like gas pipelines across Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Labor claims the $5 billion NAIF fund has not spent “a single cent in Queensland” since it was announced by Tony Abbott.
“As part of these changes, up to $1.5 billion will be set aside to unlock gas supply in Queensland’s Galilee and Bowen basins and connecting the Beetaloo to Darwin and the east coast,” Mr Shorten said.
“This project would support Darwin as a manufacturing and gas export powerhouse as well as increasing supply to Queensland and the eastern seaboard to put downward pressure on prices for gas users.
“Opening up the Beetaloo alone could provide enough gas to supply the domestic market for up to 400 years.”
Liberals’ small business target
The Prime Minister will pledge that the Liberals will create 250,000 new small businesses if re-elected.
Mr Morrison is promising more announcements to come on Tuesday, but will argue Labor’s plan for $387 billion in higher taxes will make small businesses smaller and force employers to sack staff.
“My government will create 250,000 new small and family businesses across the country over the next five years through our plan for a stronger economy, while Labor wants to tax those small businesses to make them even smaller,” Mr Morrison said.
“This is about creating opportunities for all those people with a great idea for a business just looking for a chance to have a go.”
The Morrison government will establish a $100 million Australian Business Growth Fund to help small and family businesses to grow into bigger and better businesses and create more jobs.
The fund will deliver patient capital to these businesses so they can grow without having to give up control.