NATIONAL resource industry employer group the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) has called on the Australian community to not allow the positive free trade deal with China to be hijacked as a platform for ‘irresponsible falsehoods’ about skilled migration in Australia.

After the recent signing of the new China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was quick to suggest the deal could lead to an influx of foreign labour at the expense of Australian jobs.

However, AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said it was ‘unsurprising to see some corners of the Labor Party and trade union movement peddle misinformation about skilled migration in a transparent attempt to detract from Australia’s bilateral trade achievements’.

“AMMA, as the peak resource industry employer group, has reviewed identical information as the ACTU, the peak union body, and we also note that Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Employment Minister Eric Abetz have repeatedly clarified that none of the stringent protections, criteria or conditions for the use of 457 visas are to be altered or removed,” Mr Knott said.

“While the ACTU’s response to all available information may sound xenophobic, it would be wise to reflect on how over recent years various Labor and union figures have consistently and deliberately overstated the extent to which skilled migration is ‘rorted’ or misused among Australia’s business community.

“This opportunism includes wild claims such as former immigration minister Brendan O’Connor’s now-infamous ‘forecast’ of ‘10,000 rorts’ in April 2013, or the countless times trade union officials cite ‘anecdotal evidence’ from their members about exploitation, that never holds up to any real scrutiny.”

Mr Knott said skilled migration continues to play an important role in filling vital skills shortages in Australia.

“Looking at the facts, skilled migrants form a tiny but essential component of Australia’s labour force. Immigration data shows just 2,610 Chinese workers entered Australia on 457 visas last year, or one Chinese worker for every 4,500 Australian employees,” he said.

“In the resource industry, skilled migrants comprise less than 3% of our workforce, with employers paying between $14,000 and $70,000 just to source a single employee with highly specialised global skills critical to building projects of national significance. These high access costs, coupled with strong regulation and protections, including on wages, ensure skilled migration is used only to supplement Australian jobs in areas of skills shortages, not replace Australian labour.

“Moreover, sanctions or penalties against resource sector employers for misuse of skilled migration programs are very rare. In 2013 to 2014, a sample group of 79 mining employers had their 457 Visa programs monitored by the Department of Immigration and only three had minor sanctions applied.”

Reiterating the positive outcome of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Mr Knott called on the ALP and its trade union affiliates not to exploit skilled migration to advance their collective interests.

“The ACTU and Labor need to reflect on our bipartisan achievements as a champion of free trade and celebrate this new deal with China,” he said.

“It reflects very ill on the achievements of the Whitlam and Hawke governments in reforming tariffs, for the ACTU and Labor to now revert to reactionary industrial xenophobia as Australia achieves another great economic milestone.

“To continue building our nation in the global marketplace, we must remain ever vigilant in basing critical policies touching on race, migration and our future growth, on facts, not supposition and prejudice.”