Aurizon has rejected allegations by the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) that it is actively recruiting foreign train drivers over local recruits, despite having an agreement in place with the government allowing it to do so.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection recently revealed a relatively short list of companies, who have negotiated labour agreements with the government, so they can hire foreign workers for roles not included on the standard ‘457 visa’ regulation.
Included on the list is Australia Western Railroad, a WA subsidiary of Aurizon. The current AWR labour agreement is from June 2016, to June 2019.
The revelation angered RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva, who said there was “simply no need” for rail employers to look outside Australia.
“The use of 457 visas is meant to be restricted to areas where there is a skills shortage, and gap in the domestic labour market” Nanva reportedly told SBS.
“This example shows that the system is a sham, and employers are being given too much latitude.
“We have a highly-skilled workforce here in Australia, and Australian train drivers should be getting the opportunity to fill these positions first.”
Aurizon rejected Nanva’s suggestion that it was gaming the system, however.
The rail operator said on Wednesday the labour agreement was in place due to a particular, localised skill shortage in WA.
“In 2014 Aurizon undertook an exhaustive but unsuccessful recruitment process in Western Australia to source local drivers for its WA operations,” the company said in a brief statement.
“This was at a time when there was high demand for train drivers in the resources sector in the region.
“To address a shortfall in the Western Australian labour market and meet customer needs, an agreement was put in place which saw Aurizon source a small number of drivers from overseas.”
The company explained the 2014 agreement had provided those particular employees to apply for permanent residency.
“This agreement has since expired so a new agreement was put in place in June 2016 specifically for the purpose of allowing the 11 employees covered by the original agreement to apply for permanent residency,” the company said.
“These arrangements were not for the hiring of more overseas workers. Aurizon does not have a business requirement to source international train drivers. We have not used and have no plans to use labour agreements for this purpose in Queensland.”
Aurizon recently announced around 300 of its Queensland roles would be axed, due to a scale back and redistribution of its work across the region. The operator plans to engage more contractors for this work in the future.