Australian minister dismisses job criticism of new trade agreement with China

by Ray Clancy on July 22, 2015

in Jobs in Australia

A claim by trade unions that Australia’s new trade agreement with China could result in Chinese firms being able to bring in their own workers has been dismissed by government ministers.

According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), fewer jobs will be available for people in Australia under the new China Free Trade Agreement and it also goes against a planned FTA with India due to be signed later this year.

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Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash dismisses trade unions’ assertions that Australian jobs are in jeopardy

It says it has done an analysis based on Department of Immigration figures which it claims show that the number of 457 visa applications that require employers to advertise the jobs to Australian workers first could slump to just 25% because of Australia’s free trade agreements.

In the nine months to May this year 38,134 primary 457 visas were granted to overseas workers with only around one third of those, 12,084, requiring the employer to test the local labour market first to ensure there was no Australian who could do the job.

The analysis says 2,416 fewer jobs would have been offered to Australian workers during the same period under the new agreements as labour market testing would only cover one in four 457 visa nominations.

ACTU also claims that under new Investment Facilitation Agreements in the China FTA, companies with projects worth more than $150 million will also be able to negotiate to bring in lower-skilled workers at wage rates that fall below the current wage floor for the standard 457 visa program of $53,990 per annum.

‘Australia’s temporary visa system is reaching crisis point and the government is making it easier for companies to bring in temporary workers at the expense of local jobs. Our temporary visa system needs more regulation to protect job and training opportunities for Australian workers, not less. Free trade agreements must support local jobs and industry and the deal with China does not do that,’ said ACTU president Ged Kearney.

West Australians are at greater risk than most if free trade agreements with India and China further weaken labour market testing requirements, according to Owen Whittle, ACTU’s acting secretary for the state.

‘Western Australia’s economy is highly dependent on the resources sector and over the past three years unemployment has been rising. It is also important that temporary overseas labour in Australia are not exploited through poor wages, poor safety or, in some cases, slave-like conditions. Stronger monitoring, penalties and whistle-blower protections are urgently needed,’ he added.

But Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash, said that the unions are demonising China, which is Australia’s biggest trading partner, adding that the China FTA will create thousands of Australian jobs.

She described the claim that Chinese companies will be able to bring in their own workforces at the expense of Australian jobs as ‘baseless’ and pointed out that the guidelines state that Chinese companies wishing to bring in workers must provide a comprehensive written statement of the labour market need for the request and provide evidence that they have made significant efforts to recruit workers from the Australian labour market within the previous six months.

‘The department will only enter into a project labour agreement where it has been satisfied that Australians have been provided first opportunity for jobs,’ she added.

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