While the number of students graduating from nursing degrees increased by almost 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012, the number of foreign nurses coming into the country each year on temporary visas has also climbed from 2697 to 3118 over the same period.
Prompted by an Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association submission to the enquiry into 457 visas, Lauren Wilson writes about the interaction of migrants in a growing labour market. However she chooses not to make a like for like comparison. For anyone wondering, an increase from 2697 to 3118 is 16 per cent.
This story is emblematic of much of the writing on the 457 visa program. The story is titled, “Graduate nurses and midwives complain their jobs are being outsourced to cheap 457 visa immigrants”. This is despite no evidence presented that 457 visa holders work for cheaper incomes than Australian nurses.
Out of the entire 457 visa program, nurses (and teachers) are probably the least likely to be “cheap” or underpaid as they are typically employed under Enterprise Agreements with fixed terms and conditions applying to all workers. In addition, state government employment is further protection against exploitation and underpayment. Nurses on 457 visas also have the highest rate of unionisation for any occupation.
This context is important. If the story were about Cooks and Chefs, I’d be more willing to accept some of the argument as these provisions mostly do not apply.
I’m not an expert on the labour market norms or history of Australia’s nursing industry. I’ve read there was a shortage in the early 2000s which was addressed over the last decade by a combination of incentives to get more people into nursing and then most prominently by uncapping university placements.
This would appear to be an important part of the story. But at no point in the story does the question arise, if there has been a 50 per cent increase in nursing graduates, perhaps this at least part of the reason new graduates are struggling to find positions? Yes, it is possible to blame immigrants for being in these positions, but this is a very simplistic argument. What about the rate of state government funding for nursing positions? What about the stock of hospital beds over the same period of time?
Yes, there should be a conversation about how the 457 visa program is used given other changes to the labour market, such as uncapping university placements. But even if you took away all the migrants on 457 visa holders, I’d venture there would still be structural issues in the labour market where graduates fail to find jobs.
However this article does none of this and seems designed to stir up emotions on foreign workers.