Australian Parliament repeals maritime crew visas

On 17 July, senators in the Australian Parliament voted to disallow the Federal Government from continuing to issue Maritime Crew (subclass 988) visas to foreign workers for the purposes of working in Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry.

Australia's political parties and maritime unions have been tussling over visa programs for foreign workers, and the offshore petroleum industry may have some new hurdles to cross now that the newly created Maritime Crew visas have been struck down.

The Australian Federal Government's offshore visa program offers several types of visas for international workers on rigs and ships serving Australia's offshore oil industry.

Maritime Crew visas

Prime Minister Tony Abbott leads a Liberal–National coalition, the 69th ministry of the Government of Australia, and has repealed legislation designed to ensure Australian offshore workers have absolute preference of employment. On 29 June, the Abbott Government introduced the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Regulation 2014, and it came into force on 1 July.

This replaced the Offshore Resource Worker visa class with Maritime Crew visas (MCV; Subclass 988).

Apparently the MCVs were considered relatively easy to get and employers did not need to match Australian pay and other conditions for workers holding the visa.

The Green Party came oput against the new MCVs, supported by the Palmer United Party (PUP).

Labor concerns

On 15 July, shadow minister for immigration and border protection Richard Marles said the Labor Party would back the Green Party's disallowance motion. The Labor Party's concerns are that the visa class lacks the appropriate safeguards to protect workers from being exploited and security breaches could occur.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) added that the new visas would flood the offshore oil and gas sector with cheap foreign labor.

The Western Australia branch of the MUA launched a petition to eight Australian senators, asking:

"That the Senate: (a) not pass the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Repeal Bill 2014; & (2) prevent the issuing of Maritime Crew (subclass 988) visas to foreign workers."

"To ensure the benefits of large scale resources projects, like Chevron's Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects, flow to current and future generations, we must ensure Australians work on these projects," the petition concluded.

There were 12,869 signatures as of 16 July 2014.

Following Parliament's vote on 17 July, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said, "“If there is any chaos in the offshore sector in coming days it is entirely of the Government’s own making. Sensible Senators know that opening the back door to cheap foreign labor isn’t the answer. We need to maintain our maritime skills base and ensure the viability of Australian jobs in the offshore sector.”

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