Removing a requirement to assess the skills of Chinese electricians on temporary work visas will endanger the Australian community, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) says.
Allen Hicks from the ETU said the Government’s decision to remove the mandatory skills assessment requirement for Chinese workers in 10 occupations as part of its new free trade agreement (FTA) with China was an “absolute disgrace”.
“For the Federal Government to come out and waive that under a free trade agreement, without any consultation with unions or employers, is an absolute disgrace,” he said.
“It’s going to create significant workplace dangers, not only just for electricians, but all those people who use electricity.”
Mr Hicks said China’s statistics of workplace deaths was of “genuine concern” to Australians.
“Australia leads the way in electrical safety. We’ve got some of the best electrical workers in the world. A lot of countries aspire to have the same level of safety standards that we do,” he said.
“We’ve got a licence system right across the country — no matter which state or territory you work in, you’ve got to be licensed to carry out the work — and those sorts of systems aren’t in place in other countries like China.
“And China has a woeful workplace health and safety record. They have over 70,000 workplace deaths a year, so we are genuinely concerned.”
Mr Hicks said the mandatory assessment requirement was designed to protect people from unsafe electrical work, and that the change would create significant workplace dangers.
“If they aren’t aware of the requirements that are in place in this country and they do something wrong, then you don’t get a second chance with electricity and that’s the significant, concerning part,” he said.
“Countries, particularly Asian countries, don’t have the adequate skill sets to meet the rigorous demands here in Australia.”
Mr Hicks said the ETU would mount a national campaign to reverse the axing of skills assessments.
“I think they’ve misjudged the Australian public on this one, and I think that by trying to hide this in a side litter, it’s going to come back to bite them on the arse,” he said.
Fire Protection Association (FPA) chief executive officer Scott Williams said his organisation was deeply concerned by the removal of the skills assessment under the FTA.
“Obviously anywhere where there is a potential impact on life safety and particularly in the electrical area, what we know in Australia as the peak organisation is that obviously there is a very high rate of electrical fires that occur in Australia,” he said.
“So if there is an attempt there to erode, dilute or certainly dumb down the skills, we can only see that leading to what will be increased outcomes in regard to fire events in Australia.”
FPA has recently been highlighting its concerns about the importation of substandard Chinese building materials.
Mr Williams said allowing poorly skilled electricians to work in Australia would worsen the situation.
“It’s not just the recent fire in Melbourne last year in regard to the Lacrosse building fire with the cladding material,” he said.
“We’re aware last year obviously of the Infinity cable issue with electrical cabling, some 40,000-plus potential homes in Australia [are] installed with a non-compliant electrical cable.
“So what we just see here is this continual erosion all the time of clearly what are critical life safety aspects, and we understand the economic objectives but certainly that cannot be at the cost of community safety.”
ETU mounting ‘xenophobic scare’, Government says
The Government said that workers will still have to show evidence of their skills and training before being granted a visa.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the ETU was mounting a xenophobic scare campaign against the free trade agreement.
“What they’re doing is running another agenda to destabilise the Government,” he said.
“They’re anti-trade some of them and they’re looking to lay the ground for the future election next year.”
“The FTA does not, I repeat does not, change the skills and experience requirement that needs to be met by a skilled worker applying for a visa to work in Australia.
“Applicants will still be required to demonstrate to the Immigration Department that they possess the requisite skills and experience to work in this country.
“This includes evidence of qualifications, memberships of relevant bodies or associations, references, CVs, documents showing English language skills and so on.”
The Government said the change aligned China with countries like the United States and Japan.