By Rekha Bhattacharjee
Sydney, (IANS) Hours after winning the nod for one of the largest coal mining projects in Australia, India’s GVK Group has joined the raging debate on using foreign workers in various Australian resources projects.
“Our priority is offering locals and other Australians the opportunity to work on these projects,” GVK’s vice-chairman GVK Sanjay Reddy said in a statement after getting conditional approval to the $6.4 billion joint project with Australia’s Hancock Coal at Alpha in Queensland.
“Last year, the federal government invited us and other major companies to look at EMAs (Enterprise Migration Agreements), but we need to review them with contractors and will consider the issue over the next few months,” Redddy said.
“We have not applied for EMAs but with large numbers required for the construction phase, we see them as a good insurance,” he said leaving plenty of scope of using EMAs to import foreign workers.
GVK’s partner in the Alpha project, Gina Rinehart, known as the world’s richest woman, is currently facing the flak for getting approval to bring in 1,700-plus foreign workers under Australia’s first EMA. The talkback radio stations have been jammed by enraged listeners demanding that mining jobs should be given only to Australian workers.
Various trade unions have also criticised the announcement by Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen that billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart would be the first to use the EMAs to bring in over 1,700 foreign workers for her Royhill mining project in Western Australia.
The media statement by GVK Group about not ruling out foreign workers for the Alpha project is likely to add fuel to a raging fire.
The union and opposition reaction to Gina Rinehart getting the nod to bring in foreign workers is so intense that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has had to go on an overdrive to reassure Australian workers that they would not be disadvantaged.
“I would like to acknowledge the Queensland government for their efforts in making this happen within a few months of their winning the elections. We remain committed to developing our world class projects in a timely manner,” Reddy had earlier said in a statement to allay fears of Queensland not getting much out of the project.
But such statements may not have any effect on Labor supporters. Even ruling party members of parliament have been scathing in their criticism of the Rinehart deal.
Senior Labor MP Doug Cameron said he was “gobsmacked” and expressed ire over being not consulted by the PM Office or by the immigration minister.
“I am shocked that while workers are being marched off the job at Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine … Chinese workers are going to be marching on to the job in the Pilbara,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
The Queensland project, owned by GVK, one of India’s leading diversified infrastructure companies, and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting is likely to generate up to 3,600 jobs while in the construction phase and around 1,000 when the mine starts production. Most of the coal produced is likely to be used by power plants in India, China and South Korea.
(Rekha Bhattacharjee can be contacted at email@example.com)