More rigorous requirements with regard to 457 visas would apply under a proposed crackdown if Labour were elected to office, opposition leader Bill Shorten says.

Announcing a new emphasis on local employment, Shorten said employers under a Labour government would be required to conduct more rigorous advertising in order to try and find and then train more Australian workers before being allowed to recruit overseas – arguing that the number of 457 visas granted for cooks, bricklayers and café managers has raised concerns about the number of jobs which are going to foreign workers.

Under Shorten’s plan:

  • All jobs would need to be advertised as part of labour market testing for a minimum of four weeks prior to employers being granted permission to use 457 visa workers.
  • The testing will need to have taken place no longer than four months before the nomination of a 457 visa worker.
  • Employer sponsors in specified sectors had more than a set proportion of their total workforce made up of 457 visa holders should be required to employ guest workers under a labour agreement instead of being a standard business sponsor. Initially, this would apply to sponsors in the construction sector who employed five or more 457 visa workers and for whom 457 workers made up more than 15 percent of their workforce.
  • Advertisements which targeted only foreign workers would be banned and a crackdown would apply to those setting unrealistic qualification requirements.

Shorten said the tougher rules would mean that local workers would be given opportunities where they are willing and ready to work.

“The government’s first priority must be ensuring workers in Australia can find good local jobs and ensuring businesses are training and employing local workers,” he is quoted as saying in The Guardian.

Whilst popular with unions, the moves have been slammed by both employer groups and the government.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused Shorten of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ for wanting to crackdown on foreign worker visas despite Labour having issued record numbers of such visas during his time as foreign minister, whilst Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch said the changes were unnecessary and would lead to higher costs on business.

Harnisch told ABC’s The World Today program that 457 visas were used by employers as a last resort only and that evidence suggested that the program was working well.

He said 457 visa workers made up less than one percent of the construction sector workforce, although the program was necessary in order to fill skill shortages in specific areas where they emerge.