More working holiday visas a kick in the guts to unemployed Aussies

Published: 3 Oct 2019

Unions have described the Federal Government’s tripling of the number of Polish citizens eligible to work in Australia on Working Holiday Visas as a kick in the guts to local unemployed workers.

Immigration Minister David Coleman yesterday announced that, effective immediately, an additional 1000 annual visa places had been made available for Polish nationals, adding to the approximately 135,000 working holiday visa holders already in Australia.

The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union criticised the decision to increase the pool of exploitable visa holders at a time when wages are flatlining and nearly 2 million locals are either unemployed or looking for more work to make ends meet.

“The increase in the number of Working Holiday Visa holders is a kick in the guts to local workers and job seekers,” Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union National Secretary Michael O’Connor said.

“This is a time when the Government should be curbing the program, not expanding it.”

The latest expansion follows increases earlier this year on the caps of eligible working holiday visa holders from Spain (by 900), Israel (by 2000), Peru (by 500), Chile (by 1400), Argentina (by 950), Malaysia (by 1000), Singapore (by 2000), Portugal (by 300), Greece (by 500) and Ecuador (by 100).

Unlike employer sponsored skilled visa programs, there is no limit on the occupation, industry or region of employment the working holiday makers can be engaged. There are no requirements for labour market testing to see if locals are available to do the work prior to the engagement of working holiday visas holders.

“These working holiday visa holders directly compete for jobs against locals. It is as simple as that,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Working holiday visas are meant to facilitate cultural exchanges, but there is mounting evidence that they are being used to drive down wages and conditions.”

The Migrant Workers Taskforce earlier this year cited a 2016 study which found nearly one third of working holiday makers (32 per cent) were paid around half the legal minimum wage.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has noted the tension between the public policy intention of the visa program as a ‘cultural exchange’ and the increasing reliance of the visa program by employers in some industries as a source of labour.

“The expansion of the program is occurring without any consideration on the impact of the local labour market or wages and conditions. It’s just not good enough,” Mr O’Connor said.