Warnings over lack of safeguards in China free trade deal vindicated following revelations of serious abuse

The Electrical Trades Union has lashed the Federal Government following revelations that seven Chinese workers — some of the first to come to Australia under the China Australia Free Trade Agreement — were exploited and paid a fraction of their legal entitlements.

The Electrical Trades Union has lashed the Federal Government following revelations that seven Chinese workers — some of the first to come to Australia under the China Australia Free Trade Agreement — were exploited and paid a fraction of their legal entitlements.

A Fairfax special investigation, published today, revealed that some of the first workers granted subclass 400 visas under the ChAFTA deal were paid a fraction of the Australian minimum wage and received no penalty rate or superannuation, despite working six days a week.

The seven men, who arrived in Melbourne in February to work on a luxury apartment development in Richmond, had agreed to work for $US75 a day. They were employed and paid by a Chinese company. Safety certification to work on Australian construction sites was gained two days before they arrived, via an online, multiple choice test.

The ETU last year commissioned an independent examination of the ChAFTA agreement by University of Adelaide migration law expert Dr Joanna Howe, who had advised the Coalition government on its temporary worker 457 visa program. Dr Howe’s report, which was provided to all Senators, warned of the potential for exploitation due to a lack of safeguards in the agreement.

“When we raised serious concerns about the lack of safeguards, Trade Minister Andrew Robb accused us of xenophobia, of running a scare campaign, and of threatening jobs,” ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said.

"Revelations that some of the very first workers brought to Australia under this agreement were exploited, underpaid, and lacked knowledge of basic safety standards show we were absolutely correct.

“We knew that the China free trade deal was about delivering for Turnbull’s mates in big business, and that rather than being an oversight, the lack of protections was a deliberate decision to allow the exploitation of guest workers as cheap labour at the expense of Australians. 
“While the revelations of this investigation are horrifying, we believe it is simply the tip of the iceberg, with more stories of abuse and exploitation certain to follow unless these loopholes are fixed.

“This is just another example of the Turnbull Government looking after their mates in business at the expenses of Australian safety, sovereignty and job security.

“Malcolm Turnbull has remained steadfast in his defence of this deal, despite knowing exactly how it was going to operate, and must take responsibility for how it is hurting working people."
Mr Hicks said the union had commissioned the independent report, sent to every Senator, which explicitly warned of the risks posed by a lack of regulation in the installer and contract service provider provisions.

“The section of the trade deal that was used to import and exploit these seven Chinese workers was exactly the section that the report warned would lead to the exploitation of workers due to a lack of requirements to meet Australian wages and conditions,” he said.

“ChAFTA also contained no requirement for companies to advertise the jobs locally, or examine whether Australian workers with the appropriate skills were available.”

The report’s recommendations, which were ignored by the Federal Government, included that ChAFTA enabling legislation should require labour market testing for all Chinese workers coming to Australia as contractual service suppliers or as installers. It also recommended that contractual service suppliers be subject to a market salary rates requirement.

“Unions, along with migration law experts, repeatedly warned the Turnbull Government that a lack of protections as part of the China trade deal risked having a wave of exploited Chinese workers brought into Australia, driving down local wages and conditions,” Mr Hicks said.

“This Fairfax investigation into some of the very first workers brought to Australia under that agreement confirms our fears were well founded and highlight the need for an immediate tightening of government regulations and worker protections."

Media contact: Lachlan Williams — 0447 682 027

Connect with us