A Labor senator has upped the pressure on the federal government over foreign workers to demand big mining projects buy Australian goods and services.
A government deal to allow billionaire miner Gina Rinehart to use 1700 workers from overseas on the her Roy Hill iron-ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region has angered trade unions and some Labor MPs.
The issue will be hotly debated during a caucus meeting on Tuesday morning.
WA senator Glenn Sterle wants the government to put pressure on the big miners to buy local.
“To actually have the guts to put out and demand that these massive projects employ Australian businesses,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
Nationals senator John Williams is bucking coalition policy calling for a delay in implementing the enterprise migration agreement.
“There’s 2350 workers busting to get a job,” he said, referring to stand downs in the troubled engineering Hastie Group.
If they got training in a specific field and won a well-paid mining job many would simply jump at that opportunity, Senator Williams said.
“That’s why I think we should hold off on this, and put the Australian workers first.”
CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said he wanted every attempt made to ensure young Australian workers were considered for jobs.
“We don’t want a situation where millionaires can simply bring in large amounts of cheap labour to fatten their already bulging purses,” he told ABC Radio.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says he supports the Roy Hill enterprise migration agreement (EMA) because it ensures jobs were offered to Australians first.
Only if positions weren’t filled could Ms Rinehart utilise overseas workers, he said.
“I’m confident we will see a united position from the government on this matter,” he said of the caucus discussion.
“I’d rather have the debate in caucus than let the world know how we’ve gone – rather than trailing our coat in public.”
Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson said the caucus meeting would be an opportunity for MPs to thrash out their different views.
The MP acknowledged there was disagreement over whether the jobs would be properly advertised, and the willingness of people to travel to remote mine sites.
“We need to get to the bottom of that,” he told reporters in Canberra.
The mining boom needed to benefit all Australians, he added.
“We have a situation where there are 600,000 people in this country who are out of work and their interests deserve some consideration.”
Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury wants work on the Roy Hill project to go ahead with minimum fuss.
“We will put Australian jobs first,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“But we think it is important to take the appropriate decisions that are needed to ensure projects of this scale get off the ground.”