Australian unions and the Labor Opposition have signalled their support for US-style legislation that penalises companies that engage in offshore outsourcing.
Both the Community Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the Communications, Electrical, Plumbing Union (CEPU) agree in principle with legislation that would bar companies from receiving taxpayer funded benefits if they engage in outsourcing or alternatively, financial penalties could be levied on companies that do not use local skills and labour.
In a desperate bid to save local jobs, over 50 congressmen are set to introduce a bill in the US that penalises companies which outsource. Under the proposed bill companies will have to disclose their local and overseas workforce levels, a move that is being closely monitored by the ALP Opposition.
CEPU telecommunications and services branch secretary Ian McCarthy favours the use of penalties claiming companies could find ways to overcome the withdrawal of any tax benefits or taxpayer funded support they currently receive so legislation would have to be water-tight. "It would be very difficult to introduce waterproof legislation, most organizations would find ways around it; penalties would probably be more effective than the withdrawal of government financial aid to the private sector," McCarthy said.
"Initially the legislation could be applied to government departments or organizations such as Telstra as they should lead by example; the government needs to assess what sort of country we want to become. Do we want to be a country where the only jobs our kids can look forward to are those in hospitality? That isn't a very exciting future.
"Instead of sending jobs overseas we need to develop our own ICT industry for the next generation of IT workers and develop a strong base for them."
Signalling CPSU support for the legislation, the union's communications director Dermot Browne said legislation would encourage government and business leaders to think about the longer-term implications of their decisions.
"When manufacturing collapsed we were told to develop ICT skills, but where to next?" he asked.
A spokeswoman for the Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr said, "We are open to all policy options but our preference is to leverage current industry programs.
"We need a stronger Buy Australia purchasing policy. The government should leverage the $46 billion it spends a year in purchasing to keep jobs here," she said.
Claiming the government isn't committed to ensuring jobs stay in Australia, Opposition IT spokeswoman, Senator Kate Lundy, said the legislation could be applied to Telstra and the government as they should be more accountable for their decisions by disclosing full details of any offshoring. "Steps need to be taken to discourage offshoring. It is an issue not taken seriously by this government and there is currently no test or accountability placed on organizations to justify why they are sending jobs offshore," Lundy said.
Rejecting the proposed legislation, Communications and Information Technology Minister Daryl Williams said, "Unlike Labor or the unions, the government does not pretend that globalisation can be stopped."
Williams said the government agrees with the Australian Information Industries Association (AIIA) CEO Rob Durie's assessment that, "We can take the Chicken Little approach and wait for the sky to fall or we can proactively assess the competitive threats and opportunities."
"Globalisation is an unalterable fact; Australia's ICT industry needs to be a competitive player in the world economy; this will deliver better and more lasting results for Australian jobs than the knee-jerk, old style protectionism that Labor and some unions promote," Williams said.