Migrants would take our jobs: unions

UNIONS have claimed workers could miss out on skilled jobs due to the use of temporary visas, as a Senate inquiry investigates possible exploitation of workers.

In a submission to the inquiry, the Australian Council of Trade Unions listed several known instances of underpayment of workers and anecdotal evidence of locals missing out of jobs due to firms looking overseas to fill skilled roles.

While business groups and economists have called on the government to do away with labour market testing, unions have instead urged the testing be tightened to help locals find jobs.

The ACTU argued that as there were about 200,000 temporary visa holders in Queensland, and about 158,000 Queenslanders out of work, those jobs could be filled by locals despite the work conditions placed on visa holders.

Queensland Council of Unions Ron Monaghan said more needed to be done to ensure local workers were not "overlooked" and make sure visa holders were not exploited.

"The evidence of exploitation and abuse of the temporary visa system in Queensland can't be ignored," he said.

The ACTU also called for new "whistleblower protections" for Australian and foreign workers who exposed exploitation and "rorting" in the temporary visa program.

Horticulture body Growcom told the inquiry most farmers were doing the right thing and without those workers, "product would be left to rot or perish".

Growcom wrote in its submission that low profit margins in the industry meant many employers could not offer higher wages as an incentive to local workers.

"The reality is that employing all farm labour from the local workforce is unlikely to be fully realised, and international workers will continue to be an integral part of our industry," the submission read.

But Growcom also warned a federal proposal to make 417 visa holders pay tax from their first dollar earned could drive some workers "into cash arrangements, thereby making them more vulnerable to exploitation".

"While the Fair Work Ombudsman has wide-ranging powers, and can impose fines and penalties for breaches, the reality is that the level of resourcing is woefully inadequate for the job (of preventing exploitation)," the submission reads.

The Senate inquiry will hold a series of hearings before reporting later this month.

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