Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DAMA: Government experiment in cutting wages

Vanguard October 2014 p. 4 
Bill F.

The Northern Territory has become the preferred testing ground for reactionary social and political policies being trialled by both Labor and Liberal federal governments.

First was the racist ‘intervention’ and allied attempts to change Native Title land into freehold so it could be gobbled up by the mining companies.

Then there was the degrading ‘income management’ scheme with its humiliating BasicsCard which chained Indigenous people to one or two stores and denied them the right to manage their own lives. 

This insidious scheme has since spread across the country to include other regions and non-Indigenous social welfare recipients. A classic example of how racism is used to pave the way for a broader attack on the working class.

Not to be forgotten is the proposal to establish a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty, finally defeated by the persistent campaign of local Indigenous activists and communities.

Still unfolding is the establishment of a permanent United States military presence, starting with the ‘rotation’ of US Marines through Darwin and US access to Australian military bases, ports and airfields. This, along with the expansion of Pine Gap and other spy bases will lead, inevitably, to more US bases in Western Australia and Queensland.


The latest experiment in ‘social engineering’ comes courtesy of the Abbott government. It is called Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) and covers a deal between the Abbott federal government and the Country Liberal government based in Darwin.

DAMA allows nominated local employers to bring in 457 visa workers for up to four years, on 10% less pay and under fewer restrictions than those applying to 457 visa workers in other parts of Australia.

Employers using the scheme will be nominated by their mates in local government, councils and chambers of commerce. They will be able to employ 457 visa workers who do not meet the current English language standard test, nor have the current level of training and skill in the trade they are hired to perform. On other words, on the cheap and nasty.

Pressure for the scheme initially came from local employers who were losing skilled workers to the big gas projects under construction in the region, including the Inpex LNG plant where 10,000 workers will be employed.

It was enthusiastically endorsed by the Abbott government, which sees it as a way of dividing the working class and pushing down the general level of wages. Indeed, Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash hopes to have the scheme up and running shortly and even extended to the Pilbara in Western Australia “by the end of the year”.

Unions react

 Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) President Ged Kearney expressed concern that English language standards will be lower. “It risks the safety of the workers themselves, it risks the quality of the service provided and at the end of the day it risks the safety of Australians who use those services.” 

In another statement the ACTU noted, “For example, Geelong has previously been mooted as a location for a regional migration agreement. This would be clearly unacceptable now given the major job losses, current and ongoing, from major employers in that region.

“Unions consider that such an analysis would conclude on the evidence there is no longer any need for regional migration agreements or designated area migration agreement, now or in the foreseeable future.

“These sorts of provisions in the draft guidelines only serve to confirm a view that the main purpose of designated area migration agreements is to provide a mechanism for employers to avoid obligations in the standard 457 visa program.”

Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks pointed to the poor record of the 457 visa scheme, let alone a watered down version. ““Designated area migration agreement will simply be a mechanism for employers to avoid what little obligations they have currently under the 457 scheme on labour market testing, wage thresholds and training.”

CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor said “It will mean less work for young Australians looking for a start in industry at a time when apprenticeship levels in construction and mining are at record lows.”

Adam Bandt from the Greens, said the government was “forcing people to live in poverty or accept below award wages” by excluding the Northern Territory from national labour laws. He said young unemployed people in the Northern Territory would be competing with foreign workers. “These young people at the moment are going to be told, ‘If you don’t find a job you have to spend six months without any income because we’re taking away your dole,’ but on the other hand are any employers going to give young people a job when they can employ someone from overseas for half the wages?”

The Labor party hasn’t been as vocal, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten merely asking the government to “explain” and hoping that people will forget that it was Labor who introduced ‘regional migration and enterprise migration agreements’ in 2012 for Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project.

We said earlier that it is no coincidence that the NT with its relatively high proportion of Aboriginal citizens has emerged as the front line for attacks on wages, working conditions and welfare.  It is also the nation’s “open door” for the entry of the US imperialist war machine.
Aboriginal demands for self-determination are loud and clear.  They must be supported by corresponding demands by the great majority of Australians for Australian self-determination, namely, for anti-imperialist independence and an end to the so-called US “alliance”; and for socialism and an end to the exploitation of labour by capital.

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