blog In an extensive report aired last night, the ABC’s flagship current affairs program 7:30 went deep on Indian IT services giant Tata Consultancy Services for what the program all but flat out said were breaches of the Federal Government’s at-times-controversial 457 Visa program. The show aired shots of a database of hundreds of Indian names of TCS staff working at Qantas, and also highlighted that TCS has business with other local companies including Woolworths and AGL. You can watch the whole show online and read the whole transcript here. But this paragraph stuck out for me (it’s by host Hayden Cooper:
“This is the list of TCS workers at Qantas. Of the 211 names almost 200 are on 457 visas, filling roles like business analysts, project managers, even accountants. This woman doesn’t want to be identified because she’s looking for work in the IT sector, but the former business analyst was employed by TCS, and says she witnessed an open reliance on 457 visas at the expense of local graduates.”
There was no doubt that 7:30’s attitude towards this is issue was quite antagonistic — it was clear the show was coming into this program with the attitude that abuse of the 457 Visa program had the potential to stop Australians from getting work, as hundreds of Indians were bulk-shipped into Australia by companies like Tata to work on major Australian brands like Qantas.
However, to me the show’s approach felt immature and as though it really didn’t understand the dynamics of Australia’s IT industry. The reality is that for a very long time, Australia’s continually growing IT industry has been in a skills crunch, with very little local talent and staffing resources to go around. In this context, offshoring and the use of 457 Visas have become pretty much bog-standard practice, and I would argue that it would be near-impossible for many Australian organisations, such as our major banks, airlines, retail giants, telcos and more to get all of their business done without some degree of offshoring.
I haven’t seen a lot of examples where skilled Australian IT workers who have had their jobs taken by Indians haven’t been able to get replacement work. Usually they find it pretty quickly, especially if they’ve been in the industry for a while. There is constant demand for more skilled IT workers in Australia — it’s not like other industries where the use of foreign staff has the potential to place a cap on the amount of work available to Australians.
What I often see, when Indian IT workers are brought in locally, is that those IT workers take jobs that very few Australian IT staff want to do. Then the Australian staff are often redeployed into higher-value areas or higher-value companies for more rewarding work. There’s a lot of mind-numbing IT work in major banks and telcos, and not many Australians who want to do that work. We often have higher standards for workplace satisfaction than workers from less affluent countries do.
It has even been argued recently that the public sector’s unwillingness to use offshore labor is one reason why so many government IT projects are failing at the moment right around Australia.
Are there some cases where the 457 Visa program is being rorted, and where Australian IT workers are being short-changed? I’m sure there are plenty of examples of this. But I don’t think the rap that the IT industry is getting on this issue as a whole right now is justified. At the very least, 7:30 could have spoken to some IT industry experts last night (rather than just aggrieved workers) to get a more balanced and informed picture on how this dynamic is working.
The Federal Labor Government wants to raise 457 Visas right now as a key workers’ issue, seeing it as a political argument. But what I’m seeing in industry are arguments more along business and technology lines here — the use of foreign labor isn’t as simple a topic as many people seem to assume.