ChAFTA protections ‘better than nothing, but only just’

Etu National

Worker protections negotiated into legislation associated with the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement are inadequate, according to a union that spearheaded the campaign against the agreement.

“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 it’s members,” Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks said.

"We accept the the ALP negotiated in good faith, but unfortunately the outcome does not provide meaningful protections for Australian workers.

“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.”

The union has campaigned against the agreement on the basis that it dilutes licensing standards by removing mandatory skills assessments for electrical and other trades 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."

Mr Hicks said another sticking point for unions had been provisions that allow an unlimited number of Chinese workers in trades and other professions including nursing and engineering.

“The failure to require labour market testing for workers outside specific work agreements is deeply disappointing,” he 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 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.

“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.” 

Media enquiries: Lachlan Williams — 0447 682 027 

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