Pilbara Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA)

Last revised: Tuesday 2 November 2021

In June 2021, Council resolved to move forward with an application to the Federal Government for a Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA). The decision comes following consultation with local businesses and the conclusions that found a DAMA would provide the most benefit to addressing labour shortages. Attracting and retaining staff has been consistently raised as the biggest challenge facing local businesses across The Pilbara.

In October 2021, the Town of Port Hedland, in partnership with Regional Development Australia, the City of Karratha, and support from The Port Hedland and Karratha Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry have lodged an application with the Federal Government for a Pilbara DAMA. No timeframe has been provided to receive the Federal Government's consideration, we are continuing to work with the Department of Home Affairs to progress the application.

The application was developed in consideration of business feedback, including:

  • Responses to business surveys
  • Responses from business consultation
  • Responses received on draft occupation lists
  • Local labour market testing
  • Questions, comments and feedback received at September DAMA workshop held in Karratha
  • Information, feedback, commentary and data gathered throughout the life of the project

what is a dama?

A DAMA is an agreement between the Australian Government and a regional authority to provide visa arrangements that are tailored to the unique economic and labour market needs of a region.

If granted, a DAMA will enable employers within the Pilbara to sponsor skilled overseas workers to occupy roles that they have been unable to fill with Australian workers.  The key benefit of a DAMA is that it allows employers to access certain flexibilities that are not available under the standard temporary and permanent visa programs.

Among other things, employers must demonstrate a genuine attempt to recruit Australians prior to getting access to a DAMA labour agreement. DAMA’s ensure employers recruit Australian citizens and permanent residents as a first priority.

The Pilbara DAMA application forms part of a holistic strategy to support local business to attract and retain skilled workers in the region.  The Town of Port Hedland advocates that employment should be offered to Australians first.  However, where there is a skills shortage, the Town believes that skilled migrants play a key role in supplementing the local workforce.

why is the town applying for a dama?

Port Hedland’s unemployment rate reflects a tightening of the local labour market, with the unemployment rate at the March quarter 2021, 4.1%. This represents a drop of 2.3% from a seven year high of 6.4% in March 2014 and 2.6% below the March 2021 unemployment rate for Australia and Western Australia which has climbed by .9% and 1.9% respectively since March 2014. 

The Western Australian Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation resource sector economic profiles reflect a restart of a number of major resource projects in the Pilbara impacted by commodity demand due to Covid-19, particularly around battery technologies. This will place increased pressure on an existing strained labour market and town-based businesses.

During previous investment upswings, businesses in the faced significant operational challenges as they struggled to attract and retain workers in the face of sustained competition from the resource sector.  Many businesses struggled to attract workers into low and semi-skilled positions, with many operating at a reduced capacity – or not at all – due to a lack of affordable or available staff.

Under the DAMA framework, employers in designated areas experiencing skills and labour shortages can sponsor skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers. Individuals cannot directly access a DAMA. Individuals need to be sponsored:

  • By an employer operating in a designated region; and
  • For an occupation that is specified in the head agreement.

Among other things, employers must demonstrate a genuine attempt to recruit Australians prior to getting access to a DAMA labour agreement. DAMA’s ensure employers recruit Australian citizens and permanent residents as a first priority.

As market confidence returns post-COVID, a number of major resource projects that have previously been placed on-hold are expected to resume. This will place additional pressure on an already strained labour market and exacerbate businesses’ current difficulties.   

Following further consultation processes with local businesses, Council resolved in to make an application with the City of Karratha and RDA Pilbara to the Federal Government for a Pilbara DAMA in June 2021.

what consultation has been done?

In February 2021, Council endorsed the Assessing Childcare Needs in Hedland report, which highlighted staffing-related issues as one of the critical barriers for childcare provision in Hedland, recommending the investigation of a DAMA to rectify the problem.

While initially raised as a means to potentially support the child care sector, during business surveys that were conducted, and in cooperation with the City of Karratha, numerous business sectors were identified that are experiencing persistent and increasingly pressing issues with the attraction, supply and retention of labour.

Since June 2021, in conjunction with RDA Pilbara, the City of Karratha and the Town of Port Hedland have been working with the respective Chambers of Commerce, to identify local businesses and localised labour issues and shortages for inclusion in the Pilbara DAMA.

The consultation process confirmed earlier results that recruiting and retaining employees is a major challenge facing local business – with some sectors and occupations more affected than others. Businesses were asked about current recruitment challenges and whether improved access to international labour was likely to provide a viable solution.

what else is the town doing to attract skilled workers to the region?

The Town adopts a holistic approach to supporting local business to attract and retain skilled workers. This includes:

  • Supporting domestic recruitment campaigns to entice jobseekers to relocate to Port Hedland to take-up job opportunities; and
  • In circumstances where the domestic labour market is unable to meet demand, exploring ways to better access to an international labour market.

As the Pilbara DAMA application process continues, the Town will be engaging with local businesses to update them on progress and provide greater awareness of the DAMA and its fit within the overall approach to supporting local businesses.