Australia still suffering critical skilled worker shortages despite decades of mass immigration

 In Home News Section, Uncategorized

Nades and Priya Murugappan made a fundamental mistake when they separately fled to Australia from Sri Lanka almost a decade ago.

The pair, who met at the meatworks in Biloela on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast and now have two children, lived in the town for four years.

They were on temporary protection visas before they were detained and sent to Christmas Island awaiting deportation.

Since 2019, they’ve existed in a guarded compound under 24-hour surveillance with daughters Kopika and Tharnicaa in an operation that has cost taxpayers more than $6 million.

Rather than flee their home country by boat, they instead should have applied for a skilled worker or student visa. It’s a pretty certain bet they would have received one.

A quick flick through the Skilled Occupation List for workers from abroad shows everything from carpenters to chief executives, chefs and composers, clothing trade workers. And that’s just the Cs.

The list seems to go on forever.

And even if your chosen occupation is removed, never fear.

“Pending nomination and/or visa applications will not be adversely impacted by the subsequent removal of any occupation from the skilled occupation list,” the Home Affairs department website says.

For decades, our politicians have batted up their tough border control credentials with threats to turn back boats and a promise of imprisonment.

In reality, the tough measures have been meted out to those with the least ability to defend themselves: a handful of the poorest and weakest, who now have become pawns in a macabre game of political brinkmanship.

At the same time as we’ve been tough on refugees, Australia has thrown open the doors, with one of the largest per capita immigration programs in the developed world.

It has enticed around 4,000 new arrivals a week, mostly into the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

But even now, after decades of mass immigration, it appears we still are suffering critical “skills shortages”.

Fruit pickers, waiters and baristas are in short supply. Almost daily, there are calls to throw caution to the wind when it comes to COVID-19 and start importing workers again.

Low wages growth is hurting our economy

It has taken quite a while. But Reserve Bank governor Phil Lowe set himself on a collision course last week with big business and sections of the federal government by stating the bleeding obvious.

And that is, Australia has used immigration as a means for keeping the cost of labour subdued. Not that Dr Lowe put it so bluntly. But he made the point repeatedly that adding to the supply of workers keeps wages low.

It’s pretty basic economics, really.

For years now, one of the key factors undermining our economic performance has been low wages growth.

Economists love to call it anything but what it is. They’ll talk about underutilisation or excess capacity. But the graph below says it all.

In the past 12 months, there’s been almost universal agreement that stagnating wages pose one of the greatest dangers to derailing our recovery, particularly given our eye-watering levels of household debt.

But whenever wages start to rise, the calls to bring in more workers start immediately.

Interestingly, those making the most noise now are the ones who have benefitted the most from a constant influx of tourists, students and temporary workers.

The flood of overseas workers, particularly in hospitality, has left many with barely enough work upon which to survive. And it has opened the door to exploitation and wages theft on a grand scale.

Here is another graph, presented by Dr Lowe last week, showing data from the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

GDP growth doesn’t mean our lives are better

Australia has prospered greatly from immigration, particularly in the post-war period. It has enriched the nation in ways far more than can be measured by money.

Somewhere along the way, however, canny politicians figured out the great immigration con job: that by adding ever greater numbers of people, you automatically get GDP growth.

That’s because GDP is a crude yardstick. It simply measures the amount of stuff you produce. The more people you’ve got, the more you consume, and the more you produce.

Big business loves it too.

Not only does the influx of workers keep wages low, but all those extra people also end up consumers of your products. You sell more, your profits rise and so do your bonuses.

What GDP doesn’t measure is whether or not we all are better off as individuals.

As it turns out, we haven’t performed anywhere near as well as we’ve been told. Once you divide GDP by the number of people — to get a like for like comparison — the picture looks very different.

Remember how we were the “miracle economy” with 30 years or so without a recession?

The green bars below point out at least three recessions and quite a number of near misses.

You’ve no doubt heard the grand visions: “This government will create a million new jobs over the next five years.”

And, bingo, just like that, it happens.

The thing is, when you are adding a million people over five years, you need to have a million extra jobs just to keep your head above water.

And the problem is that many of the new arrivals end up working part-time, in lower-paid jobs and in occupations that require far fewer skills than they possess. Doctors and engineers end up as Uber drivers.

Foreign workers are greatest victims of wage theft

The list is too long to compile. For years, revelations of wage theft within major Australian corporations became a blight on the nation.

But big, public organisations that are open to scrutiny are only a small part of the problem.

With such a huge influx, foreign workers, many of them desperate for employment and unaware of their rights, have been routinely exploited.

Students and temporary visa holders are the most vulnerable. But permanent arrivals share similar experiences.

Story after story of exploitation and sexual assault have littered newspapers, websites and current affairs programs.

Five years ago, a Senate inquiry released a report entitled: A National Disgrace. The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders.

Among other things, it concluded that temporary visa holders comprised around 10 per cent of the workforce and that the 457 visa program was impacting university graduates and depressing wages.  But it was the title that said it all.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has conducted raids, issued fines and published reports on deliberate underpayment and exploitation, particularly within the hospitality industry.

But for months now, almost every day brings forth a new claim of “skills shortages” and the need to start importing workers because firms have to pay more.

By business editor Ian Verrender (Original ABC Article)