[Below is a rewrite of one part of RTBU WA's submission to the recent review of the Fair Work Act.]
In the case of both the John Holland group and ARG/AWR/QR National in WA, the RTBU's experience is that they would rather recruit employees overseas than train Australian workers. It is something we oppose; the main source of skilled workers for local operations should be local people.
In October 2011, for instance, the John Holland Group advised the RTBU that since they had identified a skill shortage in the position of Railway Track Worker "over the next three to five years", they were making a Labour Agreement application to DEEWR so requested advice of the RTBU's position. It seems that DEEWR is under no obligation to pay any attention to the union's position.
Our objections were the standard good objections for the standard good reasons, yet the Fair Work Act allows arbitration only if the employer is agreeable, which is certain not to be the case here. Thus we have the promise of a continuing if muted industrial dispute because:
* the position of Railway Track Worker is not one of the classifications in the John Holland Ltd Rail Maintenance Agreement 2010 or in the Rail Industry Award 2010; it seems they wanted team leaders and team supervisors with rail experience. But they will still not have experience in the WA system or in WA locations, nor with the legislative framework.
* none of the lower classifications require extensive training.
* such a move appeared to breach the firm's own training plan.
* John Holland Group has a high employee turnover. Comments to the union by employees suggest causes include:
* poor accommodation standards
* placed in acting positions for long periods (up to eighteen months)
* preference for sacking rather than performance management.
* pay rates in the current EBA are still below Eastern States standards.
* in contrast to other rail operations, John Holland management doesn't pay a district allowance
John Holland Group was allowed into the Comcare scheme five years ago, but now has the dubious distinction of being the most prosecuted for OSH breaches.
Having been carrying out track maintenance in this State for some twelve years, it has had ample opportunity to put proper training pathways in place. On the contrary, our members regularly complain about: * the lack of training beyond that required for a particular task on a particular project, * even progression to Level 3 (of seven Levels) should be automatic but is not, and that
Yet the numbers allegedly required (85 over three years) are small compared to the expected workforce size of 9500 in two year's time.
RTBU WA's view is that John Holland management is seeking to avoid its moral obligations by getting supervisory labour on the cheap. But even if we'd been able to include a meaningful training obligation in the EBA, the Fair Work Commission could only arbitrate with the permission of JH management.
ARG Ltd (successor to Westrail Freight Employment) also sought a hundred foreign workers as locomotive drivers in addition to its then 460 in June 2010. While that was more reasonable in that it was seeking to increase its workforce by about 20%, with a lead time of eighteen months, the Union also saw the need as being some degree self-inflicted, because:
* future demand for drivers was quite uncertain,
* despite claiming that it was training 40-50 drivers per year, the true numbers appeared to be much lower.
There is also the risk that the conditional immigration status of such employees will encourage the employer to press them - or conversely - to do underpaid or unpaid work for that may not in fact benefit them but that the employer will then come to expect from everyone. Employers focus on taking, not giving. Improving wages and conditions usually occurs against employer opposition.
Simply importing workers may not be as clever as it seems. One reason attributed to Transperth Train Operations' occasional intake of people with no rail experience whatever is that since those railcar drivers will have no experience or qualifications regarding rail freight operations, they are less likely to be poached - but obviously they are less able to acquire portable skills. It seems that all the mines' train drivers were trained if not necessarily experienced prior to engagement.
An increase in skilled migration was found by the Productivity Commission to lead to only a minor increase in income per person, far less than could be gained from measures to increase the productivity of the workforce - with the gains going to the immigrants, leaving the original inhabitants a fraction worse off.
APESMA considers that Australia’s current level of reliance on skilled migration, and on international students to fill local engineering university courses, is not a sustainable strategy to meet serious and widespread skills shortages. At the moment, only about half the new engineers are locally trained.
In that context, Labor's Enterprise Migration Agreements (introduced in the 2011 Budget) are the sort of thing that both discourages good wages and good training. Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has emphasised that the aim is to cut wages below what they would have been - " … we are increasing the supply of labour in Australia, reducing competition and taking pressure off wages for them". Obviously with such an implicitly easy access to sufficiently trained workers, local training must be less attractive.