Australia's ruling Labor Party has passed a resolution ensuring Australian workers are helped to get mining industry jobs before foreigners.
Labor has come under heavy criticism in recent days since it was revealed that magnate Gina Rinehart would be allowed to employ up to 1,700 foreign workers at her Roy Hill project in Western Australia.
According to the Fairfax media, Rinehart, recently named as the world's richest woman, has long campaigned for more foreign workers to be allowed into Australia.
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Under a deal struck with the Australian government — itself a subject of controversy in recent days — she will be the first employer to take advantage of the “enterprise migration agreement" (EMA) system.
The EMA is a new type of workplace visa which the government said was aimed at easing chronic worker shortages in the resources sector.
EMA's are only available to projects worth more than $2 billion with a projected workforce beyond 1,500.
According to Australia's ABC News, the deal with Rinehart over EMAs has cast a fresh shadow over the leadership of Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
It has been revealed that Gillard was not told about the deal until after the fact.
When the deal came to light, Australian unions accused the Gillard government of siding with the world's richest woman over struggling workers, saying Rinehart's company — Hancock Prospecting — had failed to advertise a single job in Australia.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes called the decision “sheer lunacy," and pointed out that the Labor government had previously claimed Rinehart was a threat to democracy.
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“I though we were actually attacking these guys at the moment,” The Australian quoted Howes as saying.
“Whose side are we on? This is a big win for Gina Rinehart, it's a big win for Clive Palmer, it's a big win for (Andrew) Twiggy Forrest, and it's a massive kick in the guts to those 130,000 workers in the manufacturing industry who have lost their jobs since 2008."
Meanwhile, Labor passed a resolution to establish a caucus sub-committee, which will work on, but not approve, future agreements about foreign workers.
The committee is aimed at ensuring Labor MPs are better informed about future decisions.
More EMA deals are expected to be announced in the near future.
Rinehart's huge Roy Hill project is situated is a joint venture with South Korean firms STX Corporation and POSCO, and Japan's Marubeni Corporation, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
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