Lives put at risk by free trade side deal that axes skills testing requirement for Chinese electricians

Etu National

An agreement to immediately remove current requirements for Chinese electricians to undergo a skills assessment before being approved for a work visa — reached a fortnight ago by Trade Minister Andrew Robb — is reckless, dangerous, and will lead to lives being lost, the sparkies’ union has warned.

The side agreement to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, reached a fortnight ago, was revealed among documents released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade late last week.

Dated June 17, the correspondence to Chinese Minister for Commerce Gao Hucheng outlines an agreement to "streamline relevant skills assessment processes for temporary skilled labour visas” by removing the requirement for mandatory skills assessments for ten occupations, including electricians.

It also states that the aim is to reduce, or eliminate entirely, the requirement for Chinese workers in other occupations to undergo skills assessments before receiving temporary work visas within the next five years.

Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks described the agreement, reached without industry or community consultation, as a dangerous policy that will lead to electrocution deaths, house fires, and other safety problems.

Mr Hicks has convened an urgent meeting of state and territory ETU officials on Tuesday to prepare a national campaign to overturn the axing of skills assessments, which will take affect once the free trade agreement is ratified by the Australian parliament.

“Electrical trades are stringently licensed for one very simple reason: they are extremely dangerous,” Mr Hicks said.

“To allow electricians from a country with an appalling record on industrial safety — where more than 70,000 people a year die in workplace accidents — to practice without first assessing their skills or competency is negligent in the extreme. 

"If we stop assessing the skills of overseas workers and just starting handing licenses around, it’s not a matter of if, but when, somebody will be killed."

Mr Hicks said the Federal Government had quietly released the letter after the main body of the agreement had already been made public.

“Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb have tried to slip this past the public, but they won’t get away with it,” he said.

“Tradespeople and members of the public are rightly concerned for their safety and will not stand for this.

“If this agreement is allowed to take affect, it is just a matter of time before a worker or a member of the public dies as a result.

"Mr Abbott is gambling his re-election on an appalling agreement that endangers anyone who lives or works near electricity."

Mr Hicks said union members were firmly opposed to the plan and were already formulating a range of actions to ensure this erroneous decision is reversed.

“Sparkies won’t accept having their safety traded away at the stroke of the Trade Minister’s pen, and they’re prepared to fight the Federal Government every step of the way on this,” he said.

The agreement between Trade Minister Andrew Robb and his Chinese counterpart is available here: http://dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/chafta/official-documents/Documents/chafta-side-letter-on-skills-assessment-and-licensing.pdf

A list of occupations that currently require a a skills assessment for temporary migration can be found here: http://www.tradesrecognitionaustralia.gov.au/Programs/457/Pages/Eligibility.aspx

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