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Most employer-sponsored visas in Australia require the employer to nominate a position that is on a skilled occupation list. However, there are times where a labour agreement will be more appropriate for your business’ needs and objectives. A labour agreement is a special agreement between an employer and the Department of Home Affairs (DOHA) to sponsor skilled overseas workers to fill a position where there is no standard visa pathway available. This article will provide an overview of the labour agreements available in Australia and when they will apply to your business.

What are Labour Agreements?

A labour agreement is a special arrangement which employers must negotiate with the DOHA. This arrangement typically allows you to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work for a specified time and in an approved occupation.

These agreements are generally valid for five years and are granted under employer-sponsored visas in Australia, namely the subclass 482, 186 and 494 visa programs.

However, you can only request a labour agreement when:

  • you can demonstrate that there is a genuine labour market need for an overseas skilled worker to fill a position in Australia; and
  • the usual temporary or permanent visa programs are not available.

The labour agreement addresses immediate skill needs and shortages. As an employer, you must ensure you are providing Australian workers with the relevant skills your business needs, so that you reduce your dependency on foreign workers in the future.

Company Specific Labour Agreements

A company specific labour agreement will be made directly between the Australian government and your business. As the name suggests, this type of agreement is specific to your business and the DOHA determines it on a case-by-case basis.

You may consider requesting a company specific labour agreement where:

  • the occupation is not on the skilled occupation list;
  • a genuine skill or labour shortage exists for an occupation that is not already covered by an industry labour agreement; and
  • a designated area migration agreement or project agreement is not in place.

To be eligible to apply for a company specific labour agreement, you must meet certain requirements, including that:

  • you have a need for an exceptional skill that cannot be met by Australian workers;
  • you are seeking to fill positions that are for skilled labour, as opposed to unskilled labour, and these are not available on the ordinary occupation lists;
  • your intended overseas worker has the relevant qualifications and experience for the job;
  • you have a plan to train and employ Australians, so that you will not need a labour agreement in the future;
  • the overseas workers will not form more than one-third of your total workforce;
  • you are an Australian registered business that is lawful, has been operating in Australia for at least 12 months and is financially viable; and
  • you have consulted with relevant industry stakeholders, such as industry bodies or unions, and provided them with specific information about the agreement.

Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMA)

Another option is a DAMA. A DAMA may be suitable if your business is located in a regional area and needs to fill a particular skill or labour need. This agreement will be between: 

  • your business;
  • the Australian government; and
  • the relevant regional, state or territory authority.

A DAMA has a two-tier framework where the:

  • first tier is a ‘head agreement’ between the Australian government and a specific region that lasts five years; and
  • second tier is individual labour agreements between the Australian government and employers for that region based on the terms of the head agreement.

Here, you must demonstrate that you have made a genuine attempt to recruit Australian citizens and workers in the first instance.

There are currently seven DAMAs in place for certain regions. 

Industry Labour Agreements

If several businesses in the same industry have approached the DOHA for a labour agreement, and there is evidence of ongoing labour shortages and extensive consultation within that industry, the DOHA may consider a labour agreement.

An industry labour agreement covers specific industries and provides fixed terms and conditions. This means that you cannot negotiate the terms and conditions of the agreement.

For example, there is a labour agreement that exists for the dairy industry and allows you to sponsor skilled overseas workers in the occupation of ‘senior dairy cattle farm worker’.

There are currently nine industry labour agreements in place, namely:

  • dairy;
  • fishing;
  • meat;
  • minister of religion;
  • on-hire;
  • pork;
  • restaurant (fine dining);
  • advertising; and
  • horticulture.

If your business falls within one of the industries above, you may consider applying for an industry labour agreement.

Project Agreements

Project agreements are intended for construction project companies that experience or foresee a genuine labour or skills shortage that will impact the project. Accordingly, this agreement would allow you to access temporary skilled overseas workers to meet these workforce demands.

In addition, project companies with projects endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the China-Australia Investment Facilitation Arrangement can request a project agreement.

Similar to a DAMA, a two-tier system is in place where you will need to negotiate a head agreement with the DOHA. Then, you will need to negotiate with DOHA for an individual labour agreement.

Global Talent Employer Sponsored (GTES) Agreements

Under the GTES agreement, you can sponsor overseas workers for a Temporary Skill Shortage visa for very niche, highly skilled positions. You must demonstrate that you cannot fill the positions by Australian workers or through existing skilled visa programs.

The GTES program has two streams:

  • established business stream; and
  • startup stream for startups operating in a tech-based or STEM field.

Approved businesses must meet specific requirements to be considered for a GTES agreement.

Key Takeaways

Labour agreements provide an alternative route to sponsoring skilled overseas workers when the usual standard visa pathways are not available or suitable. These are special agreements entered into with the DOHA and address immediate skill needs and shortages.

There are currently five types of labour agreements available in Australia, namely:

  • company-specific labour agreement;
  • designated area migration agreement;
  • industry labour agreement;
  • project agreement; and
  • global talent employer-sponsored agreement.

If you are considering applying for a labour agreement to sponsor overseas workers, contact LegalVision’s immigration lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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