To the Department of Immigration and Citizenship

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To the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Powered By Docstoc
					 QRC
   submission
           Working together for a shared future




To the Department of
Immigration and Citizenship
On 1 September 2008

                                             ABN 59 050 486 952
                  Level 13 133 Mary St Brisbane Queensland 4000
                 T 07 3295 9560 F 07 3295 9570 E info@qrc.org.au


                                                www.qrc.org.au
QRC submission                                                                               Page 2


Visa Subclass 457 Integrity Review Issues Paper #2: English Language Requirement/
Occupational Health and Safety


Contents

About the Queensland Resources Council……………………………………………………..                        Page 3

The economic importance of the resources sector……………………………………………                    Page 3

Industry body consultation on response to integrity review……………..………………….           Page 4

QRC’s Approach to addressing resources sector skills needs……………………………..             Page 4

Background of QRC members employing s457 visa holders………………………………..                 Page 5

Section 4 English Language Requirement………………………………………………………                         Page 5

Section 5 Occupational Health and Safety………………………………………………………                       Page 7
QRC submission                                                                                           Page 3


About the Queensland Resources Council
The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) is a non-government organisation representing companies
with interests in exploration, mining, minerals processing and energy production. It is the resource
sector's key policy-making body in Queensland, working with all levels of government, interest groups
and the community.

QRC works on behalf of members to ensure Queensland’s resources are developed safely, profitably
and competitively, in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

The economic importance of the resources sector
The resources sector lies at the heart of the Queensland economy. It is the foundation around which
modern life revolves – providing the incomes, jobs, government revenues and infrastructure services
needed for much of the state’s unique quality of life.

Some simple statistics attest to this claim:
 The value of minerals and energy production in Queensland is expected to exceed $40 billion in
   2008-09 – consolidating the sector’s position as the state’s key export earner.
 The sector represents almost 20 per cent of the state’s economy.
 Exploration, mining, minerals processing, energy and electricity production companies
   represented by the QRC are estimated to be responsible directly and indirectly for one in every
   eight jobs in Queensland.
 Queensland taxpayers are forecast to benefit from the distribution of $3.6 billion in resources
   sector royalties collected by the state government in 2008-09.
 Over the past four years, coal companies have directly underwritten investments in the state's rail
   and port infrastructure capacity worth more than $7 billion and are currently investing around
   $11.5 billion in new mine developments with potential underwriting of a further $9 billion worth of
   coal transport infrastructure.
 Coal seam gas discoveries in southern and central Queensland are rapidly approaching a point
   where the go-ahead will be given for $7-10 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) export processing
   facilities – creating an export industry that did not exist 10 years ago.
 According to an Access Economics report for the Minerals Council of Australia (June 2008), by
   2020, Queensland’s minerals industry labour force alone will grow by 50 per cent from 44,000 to
   67,000 people.

Queensland is the nation’s fastest growing state in population terms, and the second fastest growing
economy. The minerals and energy demand 'supercycle' being driven largely by the rapidly growing
economies of China and India is considered by many leading analysts to be an once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity for resource-rich and export-focused states such as Queensland.

The sector is uniquely positioned in the global economic order with governments, private companies
and the wider community able to actively contribute to the economic growth that will underpin the
fortunes of future generations.

Amongst the greatest domestic threats to this scenario of sustainable resource sector development
are skills shortages and limited government vision. Adhering to orthodoxy, industry potential can be
squandered by government and the sector relegated to a bit player in an increasingly global
QRC submission                                                                                           Page 4


marketplace, where clearly unsustainable development in developing countries may prosper at
Queensland’s and Australia's expense.

Negative impacts of poor policy and investment decisions in Australia’s skilled migration program will
be borne by the declining wealth of the nation.

Industry body consultation on response to integrity review
QRC and the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) have an established record of collaboration with
each other in leadership in education for resource sector outcomes. The two organisations have
consulted on their respective submissions to the review, and agreed to consult and collaborate further
on future positions and recommendations and ultimately, emergent government policy.

QRC Approach to addressing resource sector skills needs
QRC’s educational strategy ranges across the entire education spectrum. Teacher professional
development (TPD), for both pre-service teachers in universities and in-service teachers particularly in
secondary schools, is considered an essential industry investment to having quality teaching for the
resources sector in schools.

Recognising time constraints and the diverse responsibilities of teachers, the development of on-line
contextualised resources in the key learning areas of maths, science, technology and studies of
society and environment (SOSE) (with links to relevant Queensland syllabi) have provided teachers
with access to quality teaching resources available for implementation. These resources are
developed in response to both the syllabus itself and regular teacher focus groups and delivered
through a dedicated website called OresomeResources.com.

QRC’s paramount schools investment is in the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA), a
partnership between Industry, the Queensland Government and 18 private and state secondary
schools around Queensland. The QMEA provides opportunities to students for classroom learning to
be applied to on-site experiences, enabling students to make informed decisions about career
pathways in to the sector. QRC’s TPD and OresomeResources materials further underpin the cash
and in-kind investment of member companies in these schools. The QMEA is the platform on which
the future industry workforce is expected to be developed.

In the vocational education and training (VET) area, industry, state agencies and unions have
established the Mining Industry Skills Centre (MISC) to lead VET initiatives for the industry. MISC
capability covers generic induction programs, mine readiness programs, industry workforce planning
through its Heartbeat project, mine operator simulation capacity and brokerage of all state-funded
mining training for VET programs directly with industry.

In the tertiary sector, QRC has been progressing consultations with a number of universities about
future resource sector strategies. Additionally, QRC collaborates with the MCA and the Chamber of
Minerals and Energy Western Australia (CMEWA) on national tertiary education initiatives designed to
sustain programs that deliver critical undergraduate professional skills to the sector, such as mining
engineers, metallurgists and geologists.

Complementing these educational investments, QRC runs a careers program using chosen
scholarship student ambassadors who are given $10,000/annum living allowance and crafted
QRC submission                                                                                            Page 5


opportunities to participate in industry conferences, vacation work programs etc. These ambassadors
also undertake social networking through blogs and Facebook, highlighting their experiences as
normal young people who just happen to have extraordinary experiences as they pursue careers in
the resources sector.

Demographic and labour market realities suggest that the Australian education and training system
alone cannot produce a globally competitive workforce in the numbers required to assure the
sustainability and growth of the resources sector.

Background of QRC members employing s457 visa holders
QRC contends that a strong temporary and permanent skilled migration program is necessary to meet
the demands of a booming economy. It is envisaged that this will be one of the primary measures to
meet skill shortages in the short to medium term for Queensland’s resources sector, and will become
a permanent feature of an Australian economy fully integrated into the global economy.

Currently, QRC’s larger member companies typify the use of the s457 visa process. These large
companies mainly use the s457 visa process to fill vacancies ‘for specific, skills shortage
professionals.’ A number of s457 visa holders who come to work in Australia for a mining or energy
company are transferring from an overseas subsidiary of that company, in the form of an internal
transfer or sabbatical. In these cases, the integrity of the applicant and conditions is already almost
ensured by the internal transfer within the same company.

Whilst the number of skilled migrants recruited in mining in Queensland was only 9 percent in 2007-08
and does not account for a large percentage of the national intake, all are critical to industry. Without
skilled labour, Australia’s ability to respond to this once in a generation opportunity to create national
wealth could be squandered.

The QRC contends that possible changes to the skilled migration system could create restrictions or
delays simply to address the concerns at the ‘low end of the market’ where abuses are evidently
occurring. Controls required at the low end of the market should not impede efficient, effective and
timely arrangements for companies and visa applicants at the high income, high qualifications end of
the skilled migration market.

Section 4 English Language Requirement
The resources sector is an industry with its own unique workplace hazards related to working
conditions including under ground, or at enormous open-cut operations, with large mobile plant, and
with dependency on two-way radio communications. The mining industry’s absolute commitment to
the safety of its workforce incorporates sophisticated safety systems and related state legislation and
regulatory frameworks. In Queensland, the leading state in mining safety practice, risk-managed
approaches to safety is the basis for ongoing improvements. Individuals have important roles to play in
this environment. A minimum standard of English proficiency is therefore absolutely essential for every
employee to contribute to a safer workplace.

Part of the integrity of the s457 visa program relies on the English language proficiency of s457 visa
applicants to be tested in a standardised and timely manner. In tangent, the s457 visa holder has a
responsibility to ensure this command of the English language, both in written and spoken forms.

The health and safety of all people on mine sites is the industry’s number one priority.
QRC submission                                                                                           Page 6


In what circumstances can the English language requirement contribute to the integrity
of the Subclass 457 visa process?
In addition to the four points on page 11 of the issues paper ‘Rationale for the language requirement’,
developing the English language skills of the primary visa holder and their family could contribute to
the integrity of the visa program by helping these people integrate better into Australian society. Within
the resources sector context, this is important for people who have moved to a remote or small
community. Most companies engage English language teachers to provide free lessons to employees
while others sponsor English language tuition at recognised tertiary colleges. Furthermore, many of
QRC’s member companies who operate in mining communities support a wide variety of community
and social events and initiatives which further contributes to the liveability and strength of that
community.

The English language requirement does not take away from the integrity of the program, however its
practical implementation does when significant visa processing delays are experienced due to delays
in being able to undertake an IELTS.

If the English language requirement does contribute to the integrity of the system, is it
necessary or desirable for Subclass 457 visa holders at all skill or salary levels?
QRC makes no further submission to this question, and refers the Review to its previous responses.

What impact do the current English language requirement exemptions have on the
integrity of the Subclass 457 visa process?
QRC makes no further submission to this question.

Should existing Subclass 457 visa holders who were not subject to the English language
requirement by way of having applied for the visa prior to 1 July 2007 be required to
meet the English language requirement if they apply for visa renewal?
QRC contends that any new English language requirements should not be enforced retrospectively. If
there had been issues with a s457 visa holder the matter would already have been addressed.
Furthermore, within the context of the resources sector, s457 visa holders would in most cases be
paid more than $75,000 in which case, they are exempt from the testing.

Should variations in IELTS test band skill levels, between say writing and reading
levels, be made more flexible?
QRC makes no submission to this question.

If the English language requirement does contribute to the integrity of the system
should it continue to be based on IELTS test bands?
There have been anecdotal reports of significant delays associated with IELTS testing. QRC contends
that an independent universally accepted standard or benchmark is desirable. Testing against that
standard or benchmark must be readily accessible by visa applicants in a timely and cost-effective
way. Alternative mechanisms for demonstration of proficiency should be investigated and made
available if they demonstrably achieve a universal independent standard with testing/assessment
accessible on demand.

If so, what level should it be set at?
QRC makes no submission to this question. QRC supports retention of the existing benchmarks, but
invites government advice on additional alternative testing mechanisms for verification.

If not, what alternative testing mechanisms should be used?
Sponsoring employers could be required to affirm and warrant that a visa applicant’s English language
skills have been considered and assessed as meeting the requirements of the nominated role.
QRC submission                                                                                          Page 7


Additional warrants of meeting OHS standards for the specified industry sector are unnecessary in the
mining industry, given present safety practice, legislation and obligations.

Should the English language requirement apply at the time of visa application?
Please see the response to the previous questions. Visa applicants could be permitted to demonstrate
that they satisfy the language requirements of the visa after migration provided this is within a
reasonable specified period and in the situation where an employer has demonstrated that appropriate
language training is both available and will be provided.

QRC contends that there should be a minimum English language standard and welcomes advice on
further options but believes options for demonstrating achievement of a standard should be in place.
Current IELTS testing can be difficult and time consuming to achieve, which can delay important
projects, impacting negatively on company operations, growth and employment, Australia’s reputation
as a quality commodity provider state and national economies and the integrity of the program.

Should employers be required to provide English language training to primary visa
holders and their families if needed?
It should not be compulsory for the employer to provide English language training to the primary visa
holder’s family. However, this provision is likely to occur anyway with some QRC member companies
engaging English language teachers or sponsoring English language tuition at recognised tertiary
colleges. While these practices act as an additional safeguard, stipulating this criterion for all
employers could be another hurdle for small to medium size companies considering using the s457
program.

If the English language requirement is considered unnecessary, what measures could be
put in place to achieve its original objectives (e.g. ensuring overseas workers raise
welfare concerns with appropriate authorities, meeting OH&S requirements, benefiting
Australia by sharing skills with other workers)?
QRC makes no submission to this question.

Section 5 Occupational Health and Safety
QRC reiterates its earlier responses of the absolute commitment of the mining industry to the safety of
its workforce. The industry has set itself the challenge of achieving zero-harm for its workforce, and
nothing less. QRC, along with other state and national bodies and member companies, is therefore a
strong supporter of a nationally harmonised mining industry health and safety framework with its own
leading legislation. The National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF), an initiative of the Ministerial
Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources (MCMPR) is the QRC’s preferred vehicle for achieving
that harmonised legislation.

The NMSF consists of seven strategies as follows:
 Nationally consistent legislation.
 Competency support.
 Compliance support.
 A consistently applied enforcement protocol.
 Effective data collection, management and analysis.
 Consistent approaches to consultation.
 A strategic approach to mine safety and health research and development.

Final submissions are due to the Ministerial Council by October 2008 and follow-up recommendations
to COAG by December 2008.
QRC submission                                                                                        Page 8


This is how the safety of the mining workforce should be advanced, and it would therefore be
unnecessary and uneconomical for the s457 or other business migration program to incorporate
separate legislative or regulatory safety requirements.

QRC also notes the Deputy Prime Minister’s concurrent National Review of Model OHS Laws (for non-
mining workplaces), which could complement NMSF outcomes in other industries. QRC contends that
the Migration Act and programs driven under it should not duplicate nor presume safety requirements
outside these two initiatives.

Does an employee’s inability to speak, read and write English constitute an
unacceptable occupational health and safety risk in a workplace or in a particular type
of workplace?
QRC makes no further submission to this question.

How important is English language ability to understanding and enforcing OH&S
rights and obligations?
QRC makes no further submission to this question.

Is there sufficient information about OH&S and the Subclass 457 visa program readily
available in local languages? How far should this information provision extend?
QRC makes no submission to this question.

How can Subclass 457 visa holders be encouraged to seek assistance (including medical
or legal assistance) in respect of OH&S concerns or workers’ compensation claims?
QRC makes no further submission to this question.

Does the risk of an OH&S incident depend on the type of sponsor a subclass visa holder
has?
QRC makes no submission to this question.

Should all relevant State and Territory and Commonwealth agencies with OH&S
responsibilities be provided with information as to the workplace location and
nationality of Subclass 457 visa holders prior to or on arrival in Australia?
QRC opposes such a policy, and contends that this would be policy invention for a problem that does
not exist. OHS legislation, whether general or industry-specific, addresses the obligations and
responsibilities of people involved with workplaces in each state. Whether someone is a s457 visa
holder or not is of no relevance to their specific duties under the relevant safety legislation.


Queensland Resources Council

September 2008