Chamber of Commerce looking to migrants to fill skills shortage


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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DAMA: Douglas Shire Chamber of Commerce Liz Ross. Image: Newsport.

The Douglas Chamber of Commerce is canvassing its members on a recent proposal to introduce a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) to the tropical North.

A document on the chamber’s website cites skilled labour shortages have emerged as a key constraint on business activities in recent quarters, particularly after recent long overdue jobs growth.

“Regional areas like the tropical North have a smaller labour pool to draw from to service a large geographic area and a broad range of industries, which means that the regions rely on attracting skilled workers from outside the area.

“Only six per cent of skilled migrants settle in regional areas and of those, 10 per cent move to major cities within 18 months. Attracting skilled migration to the regions is therefore an important strategy to build the critical mass of talent needed to sustain and retain talent in TNQ,” the report says.

Douglas Chamber president Liz Ross said if this is something that will benefit business in the area, she won’t discount supporting it.

“The Cairns Chamber has been working on the DAMA agreement. I attended one meeting in Cairns where there were a number of businesses who were finding it difficult to recruit suitable workers for their business

“The only agreement currently in place is in the Northern Territory and there appears to be merit in having a DAMA in place,” she said.

Ms Ross said DAMA had been discussed at the most recent chamber breakfast and in terms of member interest, she said two businesses had indicated they were interested in learning more about DAMA.

“I have referred one of these businesses directly to Cairns Chamber,” she said.

As to whether the Douglas Shire needs a DAMA agreement, Ms Ross believes it does.

“I believe yes. One example I could give is that it has been stated we are going to be down on chefs; a very large number has been stated. The figure was in the thousands.

“The government is so concerned that next year starting in January, based on the shortfall, anyone that signs up an apprentice to Commercial Cookery based on certain eligibility criteria will have 75 per cent of the wage paid for the person in year one, 50 per cent in year two and 25 per cent in year three. This also applies across a number of areas.

“So, if you employ someone for $35,000.00, for example, the government is putting in $26,250.00. That means the cost for a first year apprentice is $8750.00 over a year. That is quite an incentive,” said Ms Ross.

The Cairns Chamber of Commerce is taking a lead role in highlighting to Government the current visa processing difficulties that were imposing unacceptably high cost burdens on businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector here in the Far North.

Cairns Region, meanwhile, have stated they need a designated area migration agreement. 

Enterprise North Executive Manager Kevin Byrne has called for Cairns and FNQ to negotiate its own DAMA similar to a scheme that has been in place in the Northern Territory since 2015 so as to guarantee a streamlined pathway to accessing a skilled and semi-skilled workforce.

Mr Byrne said the region’s population is et to double in the next 25 to 30 years and industries and businesses across Northern Australia need the flexibility and assurance to access skilled people efficiently and competitively.

“That is not the case currently,” he said.

Working in collaboration with other like groups, Enterprise North is an economic infrastructure and policy advocacy group driving a fresh agenda to grow the city and region within the Northern Australia growth framework.

“Our agenda is to double the city and region population numbers in the next 30 years,” said Mr Byrne.

To vie the full report and share your views on the DAMA proposal, visit the Douglas Shire Chamber of Commerce website.



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