The UK’s labour crisis could be exacerbated in the coming months by a concerted effort by state government officials to lure workers to Western Australia.
A delegation from the state capital Perth, led by police and defence industry minister Paul Papalia, is currently in the UK with the aim of recruiting more than 31,000 police, doctors, miners, plumbers, builders, teachers and mechanics.
Papalia told the Good Morning Britain TV show on 2 March that the vast state was growing economically but was unable to fill vacancies with workers from elsewhere in Australia.
The Western Australia delegation is holding recruitment events across London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin until 9 March.
Addressing employers in the UK prior to his arrival here last week he said he wanted to “steal your workers by offering them a better life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Western Australia is a fantastic place to live and work. Our wages are higher and our cost of living is lower. Our health system is world class. You will be taken care of.”
So far the initiative has met most success with police officers – about 800 police officers have applied for jobs in Western Australia that attract a basic salary of about £50,000 for new recruits, compared with £30,000 for a constable with five years’ experience in the UK. British police officers will gain immediate permanent resident status in Australia and will be able to apply for citizenship after just four years. Training for British officers will take 13 weeks instead of six months for other new recruits.
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Papalia is trying to meet an election commitment to recruit 950 more officers to the Western Australia police force. There are currently 6,811 police officers, 300 fewer than 2021 levels.
The British Medical Association is said to be concerned by the possibility of nurses emigrating with average nurse salaries in Western Australia set around £48,000 as opposed to £33,000 in the UK. Doctors are said to be able to earn 80% more ‘Down Under’ than they can in the UK.
Papalia added that the higher salaries would go a lot further than the equivalent amounts in the UK because of far cheaper energy bills.
The British Medical Association in December published research showing that 40% junior doctors in the UK had plans to leave the country, with Australia and New Zealand the most popular choices for relocation.
Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said at the time: “These figures are hugely concerning. If our government doesn’t act now, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this will lead: an exodus of junior doctors to foreign countries, with the ones who stay in the NHS facing an ever-increasing workload – until they feel they have no option but to leave too or get burnt out.” Since Trivedi’s comments, nurses, ambulance workers and doctors in the UK have announced strike action over pay.
Conservative MP and chairman of the Health Select Committee Steve Brine said any country was entitled to import health care workers from overseas, as the UK did itself, while his committee colleague, MP Paul Bristow, said the Australians’ choice of the word “steal” was unfortunate, adding: “We need to demonstrate the benefits of working in the UK to help them stay.
“It shows that we need to redouble our efforts to recruit new nurses, new doctors and demonstrate the benefits a career in the UK offers,” he said.
National chairman of the UK Police Federation Steve Hartshorn said he was concerned by the possibility of police officers moving in “this time of crisis”.
“The impact of these experienced and trained officers leaving will also affect the ability of those newer in service to learn and develop, and to provide the best service possible to the public.”
Papalia meanwhile was clearly relishing selling Western Australia as he travelled around the cold, grey UK this past week. “Perth is a beautiful, clean and vibrant city, with food, bars, pubs and restaurants to cater to all tastes,” he said.
“We have free buses in our entertainment precincts and business district. Most of Perth’s population lives a short drive from the beach, where parking is free. Many of our ancestors were sent from the UK to Australia as convicts. Now, it would be a crime not to make the move.”
He gave away his tactics in a speech to the Western Australian parliament before leaving for the UK: “We will try to antagonise and irritate some of the locals who are not that happy about us seeking to steal their best people.”
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