Pilbara migration agreement could be implemented in months

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Profile pic of Lynne Craigie, the new boss of the WA Local Government Association.
Camera IconProfile pic of Lynne Craigie, the new boss of the WA Local Government Association. Credit: Ian Munro/Picture: Ian Munro, Ian Munro The West Australian 29/09/2015

Chronic job shortages in sectors such as hospitality, childcare and administration in the Pilbara could become easier to fill in a matter of months with the revival of a migration plan that would allow small businesses to hire foreign workers for certain roles.

A Pilbara designated area migration agreement (DAMA) was proposed years ago but put on ice due to a lack of WAGovernment support, but since then the Federal Government has begun a renewed push to introduce such migration agreements in parts of regional Australia, including the Pilbara, without the former requirement for States to approve the deal.

The agreement would allow migrants on Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visas to come to the Pilbara to fill job shortages for occupations including childcare worker, teacher’s aide, waiter, office manager, book keeper, sales assistant, commercial cleaner and livestock farm worker — with the list of occupations likely to be expanded subject to negotiations in coming months.

Durack MHR Melissa Price said a Pilbara DAMA would make a “big difference” to small and medium-sized businesses in the region.

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“We always want Australians to take Australian jobs — that’s our priority — but in a place like the Pilbara, where people come up here and they’re looking for well-paid jobs, and they often will be able to get that opportunity working for a mining company, it’s those other occupations like cleaning and hospitality, where people are crying out for workers,” she said.

“So we as a Federal Government need to come to the party, and we are doing that now, and this will be a special set of arrangements so it will be easier to bring people in from overseas to fill those jobs.”

The Pilbara Regional Council has been the main advocate for a Pilbara DAMA since proposing the idea in late 2012.

Chairwoman Lynne Craigie said the local government authority was excited the “long overdue” agreement was nearing implementation after spending years on the shelf.

“If we can increase the number of workers coming into our towns and bringing their families, there would be great regional benefits in that,” she said.

“That’s not to take away jobs for people already here or Australians willing to come to the region to do them, but the sad reality is we can’t get those people to come.”

She said with the PRC likely to undergo a restructure next year, the group hoped a Pilbara local government would step in and lead the agreement on behalf of the region , with several having already shown interest in the project.

Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Kylah Morrison said the Pilbara’s less than two per cent unemployment rate and public image problem meant many businesses had difficulty holding onto staff or hiring new employees and a DAMA was one way of easing that pressure.

“The impact of those shortages is huge because we don’t consider the cost of on-boarding someone new to the organisation. If that person moves on in a year, it’s a sunk cost,” she said. “If they can hire someone that’s going to stay, it gives them consistency and continuity to expand and grow in business rather than just trying to survive.”

She also said past experience showed migrants were more likely to stay in the region and make it their home than employees who moved from other parts of Australia.

A State Government spokesman said the government did not support a Pilbara DAMA at this stage because their priority was “to place WestAustralians first when it comes to securing jobs in Western Australia”.

Immigration Minister David Coleman said the government was focused on improving the immigration systems to match the needs of specific locations, especially filling employment gaps in regional areas such as the Pilbara and Goldfields.

A similar migration agreement is also being developed for Kalgoorlie.

The Department of Home Affairs has been directed to accelerate negotiations for the DAMAs.

Ms Price said she hoped the Pilbara agreement could come into effect from as soon as the end of this year as “the main elements are already in place”.

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