October 21, 2015
ChAFTA: Labor faces union backlash over China trade deal
Labor ‘fails workers’ over China deal
Federal Labor is facing a union backlash over its deal with the government on the China free trade agreement, with the labour movement vowing to continue its campaign against the pact.
Unions today lashed the safeguards added to the overall agreement as “inadequate”, condemning “both sides” of politics and suggesting Labor had failed workers.
The worker protections Labor has negotiated into legislation with the deal are “better than nothing, but only just”, said the Electrical Trades Union which has spearheaded the campaign against the agreement alongside the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy union.
“The fact that the ALP could not achieve concessions on key areas of job security, safety and sovereignty is of significant concern to our union and its members,” ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said.
“We are left with little option but to condemn both sides of politics for what has been done today”.
“The deal that has been struck does not protect our members’ interests and those of working Australians, and we cannot in good conscience support it.”
Provisions that allow “an unlimited number of Chinese workers in trades and other professions including nursing and engineering” have been a sticking point for unions, Mr Hicks said.
“Andrew Robb’s initial agreement provided an immense loophole for unscrupulous employers to exploit migrant workers and drive down Australian conditions, and these amendments do nothing to close it.
“The failure to require labour market testing for workers outside specific work agreements is deeply disappointing”.
“We accept the ALP negotiated in good faith, but unfortunately the outcome does not provide meaningful protections for Australian workers.
“We will be seeking a public commitment from Bill Shorten and his shadow cabinet that the inadequacies of this deal will be addressed as a matter of urgency under any Labor government.”
The union has also claimed the agreement removes mandatory skills assessments for workers from China.
“The ETU and Labor both proposed a reversal of the onus of proof for 457 workers in skilled trades, where sponsor employers would be required to provide proof of a license or the visa would be cancelled,” Mr Hicks said.
“The fact that this was not acceptable to the Turnbull government is an indication of the extent to which they are willing to undermine skills and safety in Australian workplaces.
“We have no faith that the Department of Immigration as it is currently resourced has the capability to enforce the licensing requirements for 457 workers.
“There is little doubt that workplace and public safety has been significantly compromised by the government’s bloody-minded refusal to accept reasonable protections in this area.”
The ETU said that in “light of the inadequacy of the protections that have been enacted, the community campaign against the ChAFTA will continue”.
“While the political options may have been exhausted for the present time, the people of Australia have a right to know what has been done,” Mr Hicks said.