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The world has changed drastically in the past 50 years. Technology has allowed for an increasingly globalized world. It is easier and easier for people to move around and be connected internationally. The workplace changed with the world, expanding to all parts of the globe (Beck 2007, 690). Most recently, short-term contractual agreements have become more popular in the workplace. While these new temporary work arrangements create new opportunities, it also creates a more precarious work situation. Precarious work, according to Burgess and Campbell (2013), is associated with a few themes, including but not limited to: a lack of protective regulation, a short of uncertain duration of work, a lack of “standard” employee benefits, and ambiguous legal status. This new precarious work situation brings both positive and negative impacts for the industrial worker.
The Australian government offers a Temporary Work (Skilled) Visa (subclass 457), hereon referred to as Visa 457. Under this visa, a skilled worker, with sponsorship from an approved business, is allowed to work for up to four years in Australia, as long as the worker is not unemployed for more than 28 consecutive days. It is designed for employers to hire international workers where there is a lack of skilled Australian workers. According to the Australia Parliament House government page, it is the most commonly used program to sponsor overseas workers on a temporary basis (Larsen 2013). A careful examination of Visa 457 and its effects will show that the negative impacts greatly outnumber the positive impacts of this new precarious work situation. In fact, it appears as though businesses are able to exploit skilled migrant workers through Visa 457.
The first benefit to the skilled migrant worker is the hope of a better life. Skilled migrant workers, often from developing countries, view a temporary work visa as a way of starting a new and better life (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 382). While the reasons for moving vary individual to individual – whether it be better pay, increased chance of finding employment, the opportunity of a career, or the escaping of corruption – it is common sense that the move to Australia is expected to be a positive one. The worker is allowed to relocate his or her family for the duration of the visa and enroll his or her children into the local schools. Spouses are also allowed to work. In addition, at the end of the four year period the worker is eligible to apply to be an Australian citizen, allowing the worker to live in Australia for the rest of his or her life.
Secondly, skilled migrant workers are thought to be vital to the Australian economy and society. As more and more countries begin to compete for Australia’s natural resources, more and more skilled workers are necessary to fill in the growing number of skilled jobs available. The need for skilled workers is truly great. In the United States, immigrant workers composed of 22% of workers in strongly growing occupations (OECD 2014). It can be inferred that migrant workers will also compose a high percentage of workers in Australia’s growing resource market. These skilled workers are usually young and ambitious and can be in the workforce for a very long time, improving the fluidity of the labor market (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 386). In addition, the workers are integrated into Australian society and become consumers of Australian products, creating demand for goods and leading to more job creation. The effects of migrant workers are so great that if the number of skilled migrants increases to 300,000 by 2050, it is predicted that the projected GDP growth rate would be almost 2.4 times higher than projected if no new migrant workers were to enter Australia (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 388). A flourishing host country provides a better quality of life for the migrant worker and his or her family.
Unfortunately, there are negative aspects of temporary work. Any sort of change to Visa 457 means that current or pending applicants have to start over, potentially costing thousands and even wasting up to 2 years (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 394). In addition, because being unemployed for an extended period of time is a violation of the terms of the visa, there exists the possibility of being exploited at work, especially if one is unable to find another job. An anonymous blogger talks about how he is unable to find work, even entry level, in Melbourne even though he is very well qualified and educated (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 393). A very exploitative situation is at work. On one hand, the skilled worker needs to work in order to stay in the country. As will be later shown, there is the possibility of exploitation at work. However, even if the skilled worker would like to find a new occupation, the chances that he or she can find one is slim, as shown by the qualified anonymous blogger. To make matters worse, as soon as the worker leaves his or her position, there is likely another unemployed skilled migrant ready to take his place. It is possible that the large unemployed skilled migrant labor force could make the worker more “disposable”, making him or her even more exploitable as there are many more willing bodies to take his or her place.
There are negative social implications as well. Although vocation English is required for the workers to apply for the visa, a large number of the families of the workers do not speak English. In addition, many of these families can’t afford the necessary English classes for their children (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 385). This could prove to be a huge obstacle to assimilation and quality of life. According to one anonymous blogger, the government does not help with assimilation: “It is you, me, and the bloke next door to promote that” (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 394). In fact, it does not seem as if the government is fully prepared for the immigrants. One community member mentioned that public services like roads, schools, and hospitals not receiving enough funding to keep up with the population increase due to immigration. In addition, the new workplace causes generation gap between parent and child. Sennett details how Rico, a father, is unable to teach his kids about commitment, because his home life and work life do not match up. Due to the changing workplace he is unable to show commitment to his work, instead jumping around from project to project (Sennett 1998). There is no example for his son to follow, causing great concern for Rico. Lastly, there is the concern of the effects of a “knowledge drain”, where large numbers of skilled workers leave a developing country, on the developing country. This could stunt the growth of the developing country, perhaps reducing the chance of the migrant worker returning back to his or her motherland.
Visa 457 is intended to bring in workers when there is a shortage of skilled Australian workers. However, there is no regulation in place that makes it a business prove that there is a shortage of skilled Australian workers. It is entirely possible – likely, even – that some businesses use the migrant workers because they are cheaper alternative to hiring Australian workers. It was not until recently that legislation was passed that made it mandatory that temporary migrant workers are paid the same as Australian workers (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 383), perhaps revealing a hidden culture of exploitation. Such a culture is found in Indian software companies that are outsourced to Western countries. Outsourcing to Indian engineers means that the Western company can “trim its work force, take these temporary workers into service only at times of need, and economize on long-term benefits – social security, retirement contributions, health insurance, and unemployment insurance – that must be provided to the permanent employee” (Fuchs 2014, 205). This is compounded with the fact that their salaries were often times just a third or two thirds of their Western Counterparts. Because businesses are hiring cheaper temporary work instead of Australians, the host country employment will go down. This is echoed by an anonymous Australian blogger who “[sits] on the dole and [wastes] away”, as he is unable to get help from job network providers (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 393). The ramifications for falling host country employment are big. One of the biggest problems is the lack of skilled youth. There is no point in hiring and training Australian Youth because it is cheaper to hire a skilled migrant worker instead. This is a big problem because it simply makes the skills shortage worse in the coming years, with no real solution in sight.
Workers under Visa 457 are expected to work in a business that reflects the skills they named on their visa. However, some migrants “[find] themselves in unskilled jobs” (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 393). This is not an isolated problem. In India, for example, Indian software engineers are hired by American companies. However, the work the engineers do is “not technologically very sophisticated nor critical”, and it is “distributed in such a way that everyone participates in various work tasks” (Fuchs 2014, 204). This is reflected in Gorz’s analysis of modern work. He describes how the new workplace creates an insecure worker who “practices many different trades without any of them actually being a trade, [and] has no identifiable profession” (Gorz 1999, 53). In addition to not working for the job that is advertised, many companies don’t bother to train the temporary workers, as there is no incentive in training a temporary employee, especially one who is doing menial unskilled tasks (Bahn & Barratt-Pugh & Yap 2012, 386).
Although Visa 457 is an option for skilled migrant workers for a better life, in practice it allows for potential – and probable – exploitation of workers. While Visa 457 was created to address an Australian skills shortage, it appears as though some businesses are using it to employ cheap labor. Australian businesses most likely have a history and culture of underpaying its temporary workers, inferred by the fact that the government had to change regulation to make it mandatory that its temporary workers are paid the same as an Australian worker. It is in this sort of culture and environment that the skilled migrant worker is easily taken advantage of, especially if his or her English is not very good. The migrant worker must stay in his or her occupation as a period of unemployment of 28 days would lead to deportation, and the likelihood of finding another occupation is low. The worker is neglected by the business, sometimes not even being trained for his or her position. He or she is given menial, unskilled work, not the type of position for which the worker applied.
When the world changed, the workplace changed with it. Temporary work particularly has increased in recent history. This new type of precarious work has its positive and negative impacts on the worker. Looking at the Australian government and its Temporary Work (Skilled) Visa (subclass 457) as an example of this precarious work, it is revealed that temporary workers can be exploited by the businesses as cheap labor. While there are both positive and negative impacts on the worker, currently in Australia the negative impacts far outweigh the positive ones.
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