New report finds serious flaws in ChAFTA

Etu National

Australian Government authorities will be highly unlikely to detect exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers under its current plans for a Free Trade Agreement with China due to serious flaws in the proposed agreement, a new report has shown.

The Impact of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement on Australian Job Opportunities, Wages and Conditions report, from University of Adelaide Senior Law Lecturer Dr Joanna Howe, highlights how the agreement fails to ensure foreign workers will be protected.

Dr Howe, a Rhodes Scholar who received the 2015 University of Adelaide Women’s Research Excellence Award, has for the past six years produced a breadth of work on the 457 visa program. She has made 13 recommendations on how the problems with the ChAFTA can be remedied without needing to renegotiate the agreement with China.

Dr Howe is regularly invited to present evidence to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and to advise government departments and reviews on Australia’s temporary migration program.

Dr Howe said it was vital that labour market testing was enshrined in law and steps taken to ensure market salary rates were paid to Chinese workers.

The report found there is nothing to stop an Australian employer from replacing Australian staff with temporary migrant workers from China for some categories of workers.

Dr Howe said enabling legislation must be enacted that ensures Chinese workers are not used as a wayof undercutting local wages and conditions. 

“This can be achieved by making it a requirement that Chinese workers be paid the applicable market salary rate and not merely the award rate for their occupational category,’’ Dr Howe said.

Dr Howe has recommended a substantial increase in the enforcement capacity and powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The report there was nothing to stop an Australian employer replacing some categories of Australian workers with Chinese workers on 457 visas.


The Electrical Trades Union, which commissioned the report, said it underscored the need for changes to protect both foreign workers and Australian employees.

“The report shows that in its current form the ChAFTA has no requirement for a regulatory mechanism to prevent an employer from preferencing a Chinese worker over a local worker,’’ ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks said.

“Migrant workers will be very vulnerable to exploitation under the current ChAFTA and as the report points out, they will be unlikely to blow the whistle about underpayment of wages or exploitative treatment because of the nature of the employer-sponsored visa agreement.

  • For certain occupational categories, so long as a Chinese applicant for a 457 visa met the general eligibility criteria for the visa, the Government could not reject the application. There would be no need to test whether an Australian worker was available for a job vacancy first.
  • For those categories, there would be nothing to stop an Australian employer from replacing Australian staff with Chinese workers on 457 visas.
  • Neither Australia nor China would be allowed to impose any limitations on the total number of visas to be granted to citizens of either country.

See the report at

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