LOCAL meat processors are planning to ship in hundreds of foreign workers at a time when scores of qualified Tamworth workers remain stranded in the dole queue, a union claims.
The Meat Workers Union this week launched a blistering broadside against Teys Australia and Thomas Foods, claiming they had applied to bring 220 workers on 457 visas – and the same amount on secondary visas – to Tamworth over the next three years to fill positions as boners, slicers and slaughterers in local abattoirs.
The controversial 457 visas aim to help Australian companies address shortages in skilled workers, but the union claims the visas were being used to discriminate against willing and able local workers.
“They don’t want to engage local workers because they believe they drink alcohol, have sick days and are less reliable than overseas workers,” Meat Workers Union Newcastle/Northern secretary Grant Courtney said.
“We’re just shocked they would apply for this many.
“Thomas Foods wants 60 out of a workforce of only 250 and Teys want 160 out of a workforce of only 400. Our members in Tamworth are understandably nervous about this.”
He said the companies had a moral and legal obligation to employ local workers first.
Tamworth’s current unemployment rate is just under 8 per cent, nearly 2 per cent higher than the national average.
The 457 visa figures emerged this month as part of an industry labour agreement, which is renewed every three years with the Department of Immigration.
Mr Courtney said the union also held grave concerns about last week’s signing of a free trade agreement with China, claiming it could result in a softening of 457 visas to accommodate semi-skilled workers.
Last month’s Country Labor conference in Queanbeyan passed a motion calling on the government to put safeguards in place allowing
Australian citizens to apply for jobs before a 457 visa was approved.
Former union organiser and current member of the Country Labor committee Mick Lawler said it was critical employers put local jobs first.
Teys Australia and Thomas Foods did not respond to a request for comment.