Flood-hit Aussies fast-track visas for Irish builders

Claire Murphy

IRISH construction workers will have their Australian visa applications fast-tracked to assist in the Queensland rebuild.

The area was devastated by floods, destroying thousands of homes, roads and rail lines and killed at least 25 people across the state.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the clean-up is expected to cost the federal government Aus$5.6bn (€4bn).

And now the government has cleared the way for thousands of overseas workers to have their visa approved within just five days.

The process normally takes 20 days for temporary workers.

Business groups have given the thumbs-up to the move which they said will prevent a skills shortage and reduce wage pressure on smaller building firms.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said that speeding up the so-called 457 visa approvals was "the right call".

"The 457 visa program is a shock absorber," Ms Ridout said.

But she said that she would like to see the skilled migration target restored to levels before the economic downturn.

However, building unions have reacted angrily to the move, saying that it could be exploited by greedy employers.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said that the 457 visas should be granted for Queensland projects only when there was a genuine need.

"No one wants to see a return to the sorts of abuses we saw under the former coalition government where unscrupulous employers were allowed to exploit overseas workers and to remove job opportunities and push down the wages of Australian workers,'' Ms Kearney said.


And the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, which represents more than 130,000 workers, said that the right checks and balances, and proper market rates are being paid.

The massive clean-up is expected to create thousands of jobs, enticing many more Irish men and women abroad.

Earlier, visa agency Visa First reported a doubling in the number of inquiries on Australian working visas, with people expressing interest in Queensland, one of the areas most badly affected by the recent flooding.

In addition to the visa concessions, the prime minister said a flood recovery package would also boost the ability of local job- seekers to fill vacancies on Queensland projects.

Single job-seekers who have been out of work for three months will be paid up to $6,000 in incentives, and families $9,000, to move to a regional Queensland area to take a job.

Flood-stricken areas would be added to the relocation priority list, and job-seekers willing to move for six months would be enlisted.