Frank Krause and Colin Jones are being laid off at the hydro aluminium plant in Kurri Kurri / Pic: James Croucher Source: The Daily Telegraph
Foreign imports … mining magnate Gina Rinehart. Source: AAP
PRIME Minister Julia Gillard vowed that no foreign worker would take a job that an Australian could do, as she battled to contain the fallout from a government decision to approve the hire of 1715 migrant labourers on a major mining project..
Ms Gillard has been lashed by union leaders and members of her own party over yesterday’s announcement by the federal government that mining magnate Gina Rinehart would be permitted to hire up to 20 per cent of the construction workforce on her Roy Hill iron ore project from overseas.
Labor Senator Doug Cameron warned earlier today at the Prime Minister faced tough questions at a caucus meeting on Tuesday over the issue, which erupted in the midst of a government campaign against resources billionaires as it attempts to sell its “battlers’ budget”.
Speaking today in Melbourne, Ms Gillard attempted to douse the flames, saying that a “jobs board” would be created that would give Australian workers information about what jobs were available in the resources sector.
“Yesterday I decided we would add to what we’re doing to make sure that Aussies are getting the jobs,” Ms Gillard said. “Companies won’t be able to bring in foreign workers if there is an Australian ready, able and willing to do the work on the jobs board.”
Ms Gillard told union leaders in Canberra yesterday that she was “furious” that the decision on the Roy Hill workers by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had not been taken to cabinet, but that by the time she learned of the approval on Wednesday, Ms Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting had already been informed of the decision and it could not be reversed.
A Labor source yesterday said Ms Gillard, whose leadership is under renewed threat, admitted at a meeting of angry union leaders and manufacturing sector representatives she only learned on Wednesday of her Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s decision to grant the approval.
Senior left-wing MP Doug Cameron said he was “gobsmacked” and said MPs had not been consulted by the PM’s office or Mr Bowen.
“I am shocked that, while workers are being marched off the job at Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine … Chinese workers are going to be marching on to the job in the Pilbara,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“There must be a proper process of consultation with the caucus and the ACTU.
I thought we were being pulled into a more consultative position, clearly not.”
Paul Howes, AWU national secretary, demanded to know what “political genius” had granted the $9.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore mine temporary foreign labour in a week when 800 workers at Qantas and at the Hydro aluminium smelter had lost their jobs and said the decision was “sheer lunacy”.
Mr Bowen said the project might stall without foreign labour. Managers of the Pilbara project told the government there was a lack of local workers in the region and it would need foreign labour to complete construction.
Mr Howes said the policy made a mockery of his AWU ally Treasurer Wayne Swan’s campaign of bashing mining magnates Clive Palmer, Ms Rinehart and Andrew Forrest and spreading the benefits of the boom.
After a budget framed as sharing mining wealth with all Australians, Mr Howes said: “After months of the government making it clear Gina Rinehart is our enemy, where is the consistency?, what are we doing? It doesn’t make sense.”
The decision to grant the Roy Hill project an enterprise migration agreement to allow it to employ up to 1715 foreign workers during construction was announced the same day Mr Howes and other union leaders met with Ms Gillard for a manufacturing round table.
“I expressed to the Prime Minister our amazement at this decision,” he said.
“I still can’t get my head around what genius thought this was a good idea. It is sheer lunacy in a week where so many jobs have been cut.”
The round table is trying to address the manufacturing crisis in which 130,000 people have lost their jobs since 2008.
The foreign workers are expected to come from the UK, Europe, India, China, South Korea and the Philippines. At least 6758 Australians will be employed on construction, including 2000 trainees.
“The temporary overseas workers will make up less than 20 per cent of the construction workforce, and the sooner construction is finished the sooner 2000 permanent jobs will be created for Australians,” a Roy Hill spokesman said.
Mr Bowen defended the decision: “Governments make decisions based on the evidence before them.”