“Labour shortfall could halt NSW economy: industry”

A shortage of labour in NSW could halt growth in the state’s economy or force its borders open to overseas workers, the building industry has warned.

Home approvals in NSW last financial year were the highest on record. New figures show that home renovations, while flat in recent years, are set to increase by $600 million this year.

A swathe of major state government infrastructure and road-building projects are also looming in the background.

This surge in projects has been good news for NSW construction workers, who can now command up to $1.80 per brick laid compared with $1 in other states, according to industry estimates.

But as the industry warns there is not enough labour to meet demand which will slow the state’s economy.

“The average age of a [NSW] bricklayer is now in their mid-40s – these are heavy [demanding] jobs,” said David Bare, of the Housing Industry Association’s NSW branch. “That’s really going to bite soon.

“[457 visas for foreign workers are] a sensible response in areas where there is a clear shortage like bricklaying”.

Anecdotally some in the industry say foreign labour imports are already increasing.

Paul Lawrence, who runs an organisation that trains and accredits construction workers, says he has noticed in recent months an increase in workers from countries such as Ireland seeking accreditation.

High wages are thought to be part of the reason why the state’s population is growing so rapidly, which in turn compounds demand for housing and pressure on infrastructure.

The number of people leaving NSW each year for other states is at its lowest point in nearly four decades and the lure of construction work is thought to be a major contributing factor.

Economist Jason Anderson, of consultancy MacroPlan Dimasi, says foreign labourers in other states could come to NSW seeking work.

“There may well be another phase of 457 visa holders leaving Queensland for NSW as [mining boom] jobs wind up,” he said.

States like Western Australia are also recording a surplus of construction labour, according to the Master Builders’ Association.

Greens MLC John Kaye said plans to “dump” local workers showed the government’s changes to vocational education were “on the wrong track”.

The government’s changes to the TAFE system will allow private sector colleges to compete for a growing share of government education funding. They have coincided with falling enrolments in many courses.

Last year 10,000 fewer apprentices and trainees completed their training in NSW than a year earlier. Mr Bare says making jobs in the trades more attractive to young people is the only long-term solution to the shortage.

But the state government – whose budget has benefited enormously from stamp duties from the building boom – says it has introduced measures to increase the supply of local labourers.

“There is no point having a booming construction industry if we don’t have the skilled jobs to build the workforce of the future,” said Skills Minister John Barilaro.

Mr Barilaro has called for greater auditing of 457 programs to ensure they are being used to fill genuine shortages and not entrench foreign labour.

He says the government is increasing the supply of local labour with scholarships for manual labourers. It says it will provide $50 million in trade scholarships for TAFE students in this term of government.

(c) James Robertson – Sydney Morning Herald

Leave a Reply





*