High Court rules foreign staff on vessels must be paid minimum wage for offshore work, not exempt from visa requirements

By @vitthernandez on
Offshore Worker
A worker prepares to dock with a support ship at the artificial Mittelplate drilling and production island for oil in the Wattenmeer tidelands off the coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein north-west of Cuxhaven July 12, 2007. Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

The Australian High Court ruled on Wednesday that all foreign workers employed by Australian companies but deployed on offshore vessels must secure the necessary visa. But at the same time, the court assured the workers of getting minimum pay and meeting Australian work conditions.

The decision reverses recent employment and visa reforms initiated by the Turnbull government which permits foreign workers on certain vessels to work sans working visa. It did not only reverse a government policy but declared that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton exceeded his authority in granting exemptions to Australia’s migration laws, reports Sydney Morning Herald.

Dutton provided exemption for specialised workers on some offshore oil and gas vessels, in the process, overriding the reforms put in place by the Gillard Labor government which declared the vessels within Australia’s migration zone. The minister says the court's decision is disappointing, while he insists the exemptions he made were meant to protect jobs and provide certainty for the country’s booming offshore resource industry, reports ABC.

He points out most of the ships operate in international waters and do not enter an Australian port at all. But because of the court’s decision which the ministry would follow, he foresees the addition of red tape and cost to the industry and reduction of Australian’s competitiveness in the $200-billion industry.

Maritime workers hailed the High Court verdict for helping protect local workers but at the same time prevent the exploitation of foreign workers willing to accept lower wages. Will Tracey, secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, says, “The key outcome is it puts a stop to the government's attempts to undermine the jobs of Australian seafarers in the offshore oil and gas industry, which is what they did by opening up the industry to foreign labour.”

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Source: Alannah MacTiernan