New hope for Pacific migrants

On one hand it is cautioning recipient countries in the Pacific to be wary of aid cuts from this year and on the other, the Abbott government is offering an olive branch to semi-skilled workers from around the region to have a stint in Australia’s burgeoning hospitality sector. Faced with an acute shortage of around 56,000 workers in the period 2014-2015, Austrade – Australia’s leading government economic agency – has urged Canberra to allow employers to hire foreign staff with a reasonable command of English, like those from the islands region, to fill a domestic drought of hospitality workers in the country.

As Australian inbound tourism reaches new heights with increased arrivals of up to 750,000 Chinese travellers every year combined with influx of affluent Japanese and South Koreans, the country’s federal government is faced with a sudden upsurge in demand for sub-skilled and seasonal workers in the hospitality sector. The department responsible for tourism has backed industry demands to “increase the flexibility” of what Australia calls 457 work visas, under which workers from foreign countries with a reasonable command of English are allowed access into Australia for long-term employment.

Last month in Australia as calls by industry employers gained momentum, Austrade noted that there were employers who would be willing to pay higher wages – compared to amounts paid to local Australian nationals – to suitable employees from outside countries. “Providing more flexible arrangements to access overseas labour to address shortages will help to provide a stronger tourism workforce that will help the Australian tourism industry become more competitive, encourage greater investment, and support regional development,” Austrade told the country’s Productivity Commission.

It said that backpackers made only seven per cent of Australia’s tourism workforce but that could change if the federal government eased off employment and travel visa restrictions. Employers from around the country’s main tourist cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Brisbane have joined in demands by government agencies for easier visa conditions for foreign workers. “It was extremely hard and extremely expensive, and you need a good solicitor to do the paperwork,” said Gabriella Fedeli, owner of 11 Baretto restaurant chain in Sydney. She said businesses in Australia were unable to expand their operations because of a shortage of qualified workers around.

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