House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Grievance Debate


6:30 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My grievance tonight is about the many barriers faced by many of my constituents in gaining meaningful employment. I especially want to focus on those constituents with Iraqi and Syrian backgrounds who have settled in Calwell on the special humanitarian visa. This is a very highly skilled cohort with extensive work experience in their professional fields. I often will meet with my refugee communities in order to get an understanding of how they are settling in my electorate. We often talk about their needs and aspirations. We have lots of discussions about how they are making adjustments to their new life here in Australia and their new community, how they are going with the English language program that many of them are enrolled in and, of course, almost always how they're going with getting a job.

Outside of their concern for their children and their children's schooling the single issue for most of my constituents is employment. I can say to this chamber that a great number of them continue to experience huge difficulties in getting a proper job, as they say to me—an appropriate job, one that's relevant to their education, training and experience. They face incredible challenges in getting a job. I'm concerned that we have a cohort of people, certainly in my electorate, who are trained and qualified. We here have not found a way to accommodate this training and these qualifications. We don't recognise them. Therefore, it is creating a huge problem for my constituents.

As part of the humanitarian settlement program my constituents have access to jobactive network providers. The website of the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business states that the jobactive provider service connects jobseekers with employers and is delivered by a network of jobactive providers in over 1,700 locations across Australia. About 20 of those jobactive network providers are located in my electorate. They are located in suburbs from Craigieburn to Broadmeadows and across to Tullamarine. Over time I have visited these jobactive network providers and talked about the nature of their service delivery and the issues they face in placing people in work. Their frustration doesn't equal the frustration that is felt by the jobseekers who say to me that they feel that, far from anything, the jobactive network providers are not connecting them with real, meaningful jobs. This is largely because this refugee cohort has to constantly deal with the pushback from many prospective employers. They are not qualified for a particular job even though they have incredible qualifications. It's a concern for me.

When I do speak to my constituents they say that they often feel forced to accept roles or jobs that are inadequate—they're certainly underemployed. Often they are pressured to accept these jobs because if they don't tick the boxes they may have their benefits cut, which would be a real problem for them. It's not that they don't want to work. I think this group of people's major frustration is that they feel they are simply not able to make the sort of contribution that they want to make in the areas that they are qualified for and educated in. For many of them it's—well, humiliation is an understatement, but they will often tell me that they feel humiliated by this rejection of their qualifications.

I want to tell some of their stories, and they were very happy for me to do that, so I'm going to do that, because it's very important to develop a picture or profile of the sorts of people that we could, as a community, benefit from if we could find a way to accommodate them. Luma is a constituent from Roxburgh Park. She is an electrical and communications engineer. Prior to coming to Australia, she had 21 years of work experience as an engineer in Iraq. She had a successful career until, of course, it was cut short and she was forced to flee Iraq as a refugee and come and live in Australia. When Luma attended one of her first interviews with her jobactive network provider she was told by her case manager that she would never ever find a job in her field. Needless to say, that came as a bit of a shock to her. Instead, she was given a job that she could go to, and it was a job as a cleaner. Although it was necessary to work, she felt that she could make a bigger and better contribution. She definitely wanted to continue exercising the skills and qualifications that, for the last 21 years, she had used in Iraq. Luma said to me, 'I actually don't understand why I'm not matched up with jobs that match my qualifications.'

Recently, I held a forum in my electorate. I was surprised to see some 400 people attend that forum. All of them were recently arrived refugees; some had been here for a period of more than three years. They had all come here under the Humanitarian Settlement Program. All of them felt that they had not been given adequate opportunity to use their skills.

I suggest we look at an initiative that is being led by the Victorian government, which recognises this gap and this potential. In recognition that we're about to outlay on a large infrastructure program and of the skills shortages associated with that, the state government has identified the need for trained and qualified engineers. They've created an engineering pathway industry cadetship, which is a program that will exclusively recruit engineers from refugee or asylum-seeker backgrounds by fast-tracking and removing the barriers that are preventing them from being employed in those fields. It will allow qualified engineers from diverse and difficult backgrounds to start their careers by working on these major transport infrastructure programs in Victoria. This program will partner with AMEP, Melbourne Polytechnic and the Kangan Institute, and it will be in collaboration with La Trobe University and their partner Engineers Australia. They recently held a focus group in my electorate where they introduced the pathways to engineering initiatives.

I want to thank Carole Pondevie-Lay, the community liaison and engagement manager at Melbourne Polytechnic, for spearheading this initiative. Through the delivery of the AMEP program at the Melbourne Polytechnic, they realised they have a lot of refugees skilled in engineering. I'm very interested to see how this program—this fast-tracking initiative—succeeds in fast-tracking pathways for people who have got this sort of experience and these qualifications by matching them up with jobs that are identified as a skills shortage.

So we're all very excited about this. Engineers Australia supports Australia's migration policy by allowing engineering qualifications to be recognised Australia-wide. With this initiative, we will see La Trobe University create a one-year fast-track for skilled migrants into a workforce familiarisation training program. This will be of benefit to everyone. I suggest that, when we are reviewing some of the way the Job Network providers are operating, we consider in a more creative way how we can fast-track some of our skills in a way that allows people to work in meaningful jobs.