Committee endorses visa worker levy but Kate Carnell warns of angst for small businesses


A Senate committee has deemed it ‘wholly appropriate’ that employers pay a levy to access overseas workers; however, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, considers this “another blow” for small businesses.

[Related article: Federal Budget: foreign worker tax introduced]

In October, last year, the Federal Government introduced the Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2017 and the Migration (Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017 into Parliament, with a view to addressing concerns about the displacement of Australian workers.

The bills provide a framework for the collection of a levy from employers for engaging overseas workers on temporary and permanent visas. With the introduction of this levy in March 2018, the Federal Government is seeking to raise between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion, over a four-year period, for its Skilling Australians Fund.  It expects the Fund will support up to 300,000 apprentices, trainees, pre-apprentices and higher level skilled Australians.

In its report inquiring into both bills, the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee recommended the bills be passed by the senate on the basis that it was “wholly appropriate that employers seeking access to overseas skilled workers should be required to contribute to the broader skills development of Australians”.

The Committee added, “The Skilling Australians Fund will support targeted investment in critical skill needs in key regions and industries across the Australian economy… While the committee acknowledges the concerns raised by submitters, on balance it considers the bills necessary to ensure that all Australians have access to adequate and high-quality skills and training opportunities.”

Commenting on the report, Carnell said increasing the cost to small businesses of engaging migrants on temporary visas will “add to the angst already involved in the complex and time-consuming process of securing a suitable worker”.

“We know that small businesses contribute significantly to the training of their own workforce and are more than happy to do this,” she said.

“However, in some businesses and some areas, particularly regional and rural, no amount of advertising or word of mouth is going to fill a vacancy.

“This is when employers look to what is probably the last resort for them, which is getting skilled workers from overseas.

“We are disappointed that this new legislation increases costs, timeframes and red tape.

“Under the proposed legislation, business owners will have to pay an upfront training levy of up to $8,000, spend around 80 hours filling out paperwork and then wait between seven to nine months for this to be processed.

“With cash flow and profit margins always a challenge, and no human resource or finance departments to support the process, like big business, small businesses might just walk away as it is too hard.

“This legislation imposes a disproportionate burden on Australia’s small businesses and limits their capacity to employ people to run or grow their business.”