Oil and gas sector accuses Labor of jeopardising industry over foreign visas

offshore-Chevron-rig-600x408Australia’s peak oil and gas body has told the Labor Party to, “take a step back and make a clear-eyed assessment of what will be jeopardised if it fails to support the use of Maritime Crew visas.”

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) made the prickly suggestion after the Labor Party moved against the Abbott Government’s attempts to water down visa regulations applying to foreign workers in the offshore oil and gas sector.

Scott Barklamb, executive director of The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) said the Maritime Union had made a number of misrepresentations regarding the issue.

“The basis on which the unions would have the Senate overturn this regulation is deliberately ill-informed, and simply does not stand up to scrutiny,” Mr Barklamb says.

“Only a handful of these highly specialised offshore construction vessels exist globally – they aren’t taxi-cabs where local operators can be easily subbed-in and out. Each vessel uses highly specialised technology not available in Australia and has significant capital invested in them.

“A small permanent crew travels with these ships to operate them safely around the world. Australian maritime workers – often upwards of 100 – are contracted to the ship through Australian labour hire companies. These ships create jobs for Australians and will continue to do so unless the MUA, the Greens and others succeed in deliberately endangering these Australian jobs.

“This is about maritime unions spitting the dummy because they don’t have coverage or collect money from the 15-20% of highly specialised international crew who are in our waters for just a few weeks at a time,” Mr Barklamb said.

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin dismissed the AMMA’s claims of threatening Australian jobs as arrant nonsense.

“AMMA is trying to devise a set of rules whereby there is no obligation to employ any Australians at all,” Mr Crumlin.

“They also want to remove any background checks for offshore workers, which has massive implications for national security.

“Add to this the fact that that maritime skills and training base would be decimated and what you have is AMMA’s recipe for disaster in the offshore.”

He said the move toward utilising Maritime Crew Visas (MCVs), which have significantly less checks and balances than any other temporary visa class, would put both foreign workers and the Australian community at risk.

“The Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Richard Marles has rightly pointed out that Maritime Crew Visas were never intended for use in the offshore resources industry,” Mr Crumlin said.

“They lack protections against exploitation of workers and offer zero protections for Australians from potential security breaches. On behalf of Australian maritime workers and the community more broadly we are grateful to Mr Marles for his awareness-raising on this critical issue ahead of this week’s vote.”

Mr Crumlin pointed to the long history of foreign workers on Maritime Crew Visas escaping immigration and disappearing permanently into the community.

“Just last week two Vietnamese crew on MCVs went missing in Newcastle. A few months ago seven crew disappeared off an Egyptian vessel. Hundreds have disappeared in recent years and very few have ever been found again,” he said.

“Why on earth would we then be looking to expand this visa class into the offshore sector? Why would be creating conditions to replace quality Australian jobs with positions available only to overseas workers with loose visa conditions? It beggars belief. We know the big offshore multinationals aren’t too concerned about losing a steady stream of overseas workers, they are able to source more. But it is a major concern for Australian jobs and Australian security.”

In a statement the APPEA refuted the claims of the MUA saying, “The effect of the Act is to extend the control of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) over offshore pipe laying and resource related activity and reduce the competitiveness of Australia’s maritime construction industry.”

Labor’s support of a disallowance motion creates great uncertainty and risks vital, specialised, construction work – such as offshore pipe-laying – grinding to a halt.

“The oil and gas industry is currently constructing around $200 billion worth of projects that have already helped deliver 100,000 jobs across the economy and which will soon see the sector’s annual tax contribution approach $13 billion.”

“Many of these projects are at crucial stages of development and policy that undermines the industry’s capacity to deliver projects on-time and on-budget threatens both the commercial position of current investors and the tens of billions of dollars’ worth of future projects still to be approved.”

“At a time when Australia’s LNG markets are being targeted by a range of emerging competitors, our reputation as a safe and stable investment destination is under intense scrutiny.”

“The stakes are high and moves to extend the control of the Maritime Union are clearly not in the national interest.”

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