As you are aware, ITPA has made several comments on the impact of various visa classes on the IT industry in Australia. We have no issue at all with the hiring of foreign workers where local skills are genuinely not available and parallel efforts are made to skill up locals. But we do have concerns that the local market protections built into visa classes, which allow foreign workers to enter the Australian workforce on a temporary basis, are not enforced sufficiently to protect the local market.
A recent report published by CEDA and the ACS has come out in support of temporary visas, saying that they are necessary to meet Australia’s future requirements for IT workers. ITPA has significant concerns with these claims, as the experience of our members differs substantially to the picture drawn in the report, and the issue of temporary visas cannot be considered on its own when judging the health of the local IT industry.
Traditionally in the IT employment market, high-end roles are filled by workers with significant experience in the industry, many of whom started in entry-level roles — such as junior developers, help desk operators and technical support roles — that allowed them to build capability and move into more senior roles over time.
However, through the outsourcing of some of this work (particularly the entry-level work) to low-cost foreign outsourcers (who often utilise off-shore resources to provide coverage), the low-level opportunities for Australian IT workers to get in ‘at the ground level’ and then move up through the industry have been reduced. Without entry into the IT industry at the ground level, it’s absolutely expected that there will be a lack of high-level senior/experienced workers to take on the more challenging roles.
Again, ITPA has no issue with the temporary employment of overseas workers with specific skillsets that are not available in Australia — it would be foolish to deny ourselves access to skills where the local skill shortage is genuine. But we are seriously concerned that the tests for whether the skills are available in the local market are not appropriate in either design, application or regulation, and the CEDA report backs this up.
We have anecdotal evidence that the system as it stands is being abused, with foreign workers preferred to locals due to cost pressures rather than actual skill shortages, and that foreign workers are pressured to work for lower wages/salaries than local workers because they’re either attached to work from offshore, or because they are threatened with being returned home to even lower-paying roles if they raise concerns.
There is also strong evidence that the process of skilling up of local workers to resolve a local skills shortage is not always happening either — rather, once a visa expires, one temporary overseas-sourced worker is replaced by another, perpetuating the local skills shortage rather than resolving it.
ITPA has called on the Australian Government to open up the governance process to industry bodies, and will repeat that call again in the future. We believe that with regular reviews and checks, flaws in the system and its application can be identified and resolved, leading to a fairer outcome for both local and overseas workers on temporary visas in Australia.