26 May 2012

Backlash over Australian foreign worker decision

3:07 pm on 26 May 2012

Unions and members of Australia's Labor government are angry at its decision to allow billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart to bring more than 1,700 foreign workers to a mining project in Western Australia.

The Federal Government has approved a migration agreement for Ms Rinehart's $9 billion Roy Hill Iron Ore project in Pilbara.

Ms Rinehart, recently named the world's richest woman, has long called for easier access to foreign temporary workers to help fill shortages, the ABC reports.

A series of union leaders, including from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, have criticised the agreement as lunacy and accused the Government of caving in to Ms Rinehart.

The AMWU says the move sets a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face for the domestic workforce.

Labor backbencher Doug Cameron told the ABC he was gobsmacked and bemused by the decision and does not believe Labor's caucus will be comfortable with it either.

"Why are we making it even easier to bring workers in when workers in Australia are looking for work?" Senator Cameron asked.

But Western Australia's peak mining and business groups have welcomed the decision.

Bruce Campbell-Fraser from the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy said it would remove barriers to growth and disputes the suggestion the move will come at the expense of local jobs.

He said industry's first preference would be to train and employ local people, and a targeted skilled migration system is a top-up if required.

To be eligible for the Federal Government initiative, projects must have a capital expenditure of over $2 billion and a workforce of at least 1500 people and companies must agree to local employment targets.