The Australian labour market is diverse. Here at Labour Market Branch in Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we often hear feedback that local labour conditions are not comparable to national conditions. This can be particularly acute for regional areas and this is one reason why concessions exist for regional employer visas such as the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS).
It is from this tradition that the Australian Government has announced a new regional initiative, Regional Migration Agreements (RMAs). These agreements will recognise the particular skilled migration needs of regional areas, taking account of unique local particulars. RMAs can be tailor made to bring together the views of employers, local and state governments and unions to cooperate in addressing local labour needs (and please note, RMAs are not a new visa).
Like all our skilled migration programs, RMAs are designed to support economic growth while ensuring local workers remain the first choice for employers. Training initiatives and future planning that focus on the needs of the local regional area will be an integral part of all RMAs. It is important to realise that RMAs are only a temporary solution, designed to supplement labour supply only where there are not enough local workers. As Minister Bowen said regarding another migration agreement for the resource sector, Enterprise Migration Agreements, the ultimate focus must be on local skills and training.
The key benefit of RMAs will be the ability to negotiate concessions from standard skilled migration programs (such as the temporary 457 program). For example, some common semi-skilled occupations, which are not available under the 457 program include locomotive driver, mining labourer or plant operator. Under a RMA, these semi-skilled occupations (and many others) could become available for local areas that demonstrate a need in the local labour market that can’t be filled by local workers.
A secondary, but also substantial, benefit will be the efficiencies gained by streamlining the labour agreement process. Currently, labour agreements need to be negotiated with employers and they can be quite complex, requiring individual negotiation with each business. To alleviate this, RMAs will have a two-tiered structure. Negotiation about labour market testing and local conditions will occur up front so each employer does not have to duplicate similar information. The result will be a streamlined agreement for each employer—reducing delays.
The department is currently discussing RMAs with other federal government agencies. After this, we hope to engage with a broad audience—regional business groups, local councils, state governments, members of the general public—to hear feedback on the proposal. These discussions will help the department to develop RMAs. Two central requirements for RMAs will be the structure and eligibility.
Structure: The government has already announced that RMAs will be negotiated between the government and representatives of the local area. Individual local employers will then directly sponsor workers under the terms of the RMA.
RMAs are designed to be flexible to suit the particular needs of local areas. The department will be asking about key aspects of RMAs, such as:
- The sort of training proposals that will be acceptable and the way initiatives are identified.
- The type of evidence required to demonstrate a need for semi-skilled overseas workers.
- The responsibility local authorities hold and the duration of an RMA.
There are many questions that require answers before negotiations between local regional areas and the government can occur.
Eligibility: The government has already released the high level focus for RMAs. The agreements will target high growth regional areas where local labour is in short supply.
In consulting further on RMAs, specific eligibility requirements will be established around issues like:
- The level of growth required to qualify.
- The type of growth best used as a measure—wage expenditure, general labour market or total economic size.
- The type of local authorities eligible to sign up to an RMA.
These questions do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer. Different regional areas will have different local conditions, requiring the need for unique approaches across Australia.
We hope to have the questions answered by the end of this year. After that, it is expected that individual RMAs will be negotiated from early 2012. Stay tuned for further information.