Big changes for working visas part of Coalition tourism plans
QUEENSLAND'S tourism industry could be a step closer to winning a long-fought battle for working holiday visas, to extend to seasonal tourism jobs.
Federal shadow tourism minister Bob Baldwin yesterday stopped just short of confirming the industry would be incorporated into the visa structure if the Coalition was elected come September, but told more than 100 people in his audience that they could expect good news when the policy announcement came.
Answering a question from a tourism operator at a Queensland Tourism Industry Council event in Brisbane, Mr Baldwin said such a policy would enable people with non-English language skills to boost tourism experiences for growing markets, such as Chinese tourists, when they stayed at hotels and participated in tourism activities.
Working holiday visa holders must work in regional Australia for at least three months (88 days) during the year within the specified industries.
If they do they can be eligible for a second working holiday visa for a second year.
Mr Baldwin also pointed to food professionals not being included on the skilled migration list for 457 visas which became a problem when the mining industry "took your cooks and your chefs".
"They needed food professionals up there to feed all the miners," he said.
"So they went to the easy sources, they went to your restaurants and your hotels - they took your cooks and your chefs.
"That left a real gap in the industry where some restaurants couldn't open, where hotels couldn't provide the services because there was a lack of skills.
"We've taken that on board and we'll make a policy announcement.
"We're very much behind a 457 that doesn't replace Australian jobs but actually creates opportunities for Australian industry."
QTIC chief Daniel Gschwind said extending working holiday visas to the tourism sector would work for the industry and for workers.
He said sometimes fruit picking seasons did not last long enough in one place to satisfy the three-month requirement so travellers needed to move between regions and types of work or they fell short and lost out.
Mr Gschwind said the visa system would work best in the Whitsundays, the outback and other regional areas with seasonal tourist increases.
"So giving working holiday visa holders the opportunity to qualify for an extended stay regardless of where they were working would support the agricultural sector," he said.
"There are simply not enough Australians in some of those areas that need that seasonal boost for their workforce, to fill those jobs.
"We will always rely on access to that very mobile workforce, often very willing, often very skilled, who is temporarily available.
"You work intense periods, you work weekends, all of that works for the working holiday visa holders who want to work first and then go and spend that money on the tourism experience."
Mr Baldwin, who has experience in the tourism industry before his political life, said the Coalition had also listened to the industry about penalty rates.
He said the industry must argue its case through the Fair Work Commission and the Coalition would implement the outcome.
"If jobs only exist Thursday to Sunday, you can't be paying people for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," he said.
"You can't be paying from hour one, double time or time and a half, if that's the only hours that job exists."
Mr Gschwind said the industry simply wanted flexibility.
"The old perception that one works 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and the rest you don't are just outdated," he said.
"We have customers that want services on Sundays and Saturday - all of us expect that.
"So we have facilitate the provision of those services but if we have to simply shut down businesses, it also shuts out consumers."