Fears are growing that the supply chain crisis will hit the petrol pump if the Morrison government does not remove limits on how long foreign workers can work at the nation’s service stations.

Australia’s peak fuel body is warning of chronic fuel shortages – similar to what the UK suffered last year – if the changes aren’t made.

Many service station workers are on 457 student visas, which allow only up to 40 hours of work a fortnight in most cases.

Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association chief executive Mark McKenzie said the federal government had been ignoring calls to allow visa holders to work more hours.

“We’ve got a situation at the moment where we have got a latent workforce that has not been used, and is used quite extensively in our industry,” he said. “We have been seeking concessions to international visa holders, particularly those on working and student visas, to remove the cap at least for a period of six to 12 months.

“Our key message to the government is the need to act now to prevent a crisis.”

Eddy Nader is the director of a chain of six petrol stations in southwest Sydney, founded by his father in the early 1970s. At Christmas he lost four staff who had to go into a regional area to work, and he has been unable to replace them. For this reason, he has had to close some stations at night, and his 16-year-old and 13-year-old daughters are working during their school holidays. His 20-year-old son has been working 16-hour days across the six stores seven days a week.

He is also calling for a halt on visa holders to go and work in regional areas and to increase the 20-hours-a-week limit for student visas to be lifted to at least 30.

“Our biggest let-down has been the Department of Immigration,” Mr Nader said. “We’re struggling for staff but they’ve got some really stupid rules that they are enforcing. We’re in a pandemic, people are sick and can’t rock up to work, and we’re sending people to go work in regional areas where there’s no work.”

Mr McKenzie said Australia risked the fuel crisis Britain experienced at the end of last year.

While there was no shortage of fuel in the UK, panic buying combined with supply chain ­issues resulted in up to 90 per cent of British petrol stations running dry in some areas.

“Our situation in Australia has all the precursors, all the factors, that establish a potential risk,” he said. “We need to act now to prevent what happened in the UK.”

Mr McKenzie said he believed the Morrison government was afraid the jobs of Australians would be taken, but after 12 months the industry had not been able to fill the positions.

“We had resourcing and workforce problems before Omicron, largely because about 70 per cent of our industry is casual,” he said.

Mr McKenzie is also calling for an overhaul of the taxation system to create an incentive for those aged over 65 to work.

“We’ve got plenty of work for them, but at the moment the tax system creates a disincentive for those people to work. There are huge numbers of those people in the system. There are truck drivers, people who are customer service staff who our industry and others would use,” he said.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was asked for a comment.

Extracted in full from: Coronavirus: Petrol crisis looms as operators call for visa rule change (theaustralian.com.au)

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