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Australian workers warned by AMWU about impact of China FTA deal

By: Pauline Yao - IndustrySearch writer
17 July, 2015

The Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) has recently issued a warning to Australian workers in light of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Given the new laws that will likely usher in a high number of foreign workers into the country, it is highly possible that Australian workers could feel the repercussions in terms of job exclusion.

The signing was conducted in Canberra in June 2015, and according to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this deal is nothing less than history in the making for Australia.

Some of the highlighted features of the recently implemented free trade agreement include lower tariffs as well as higher accessibility for Australian exports to China. Additionally, workers in China can now be imported for labour on significant projects whilst bypassing the process of labour market testing.

Amidst growing concerns, a media campaign was consequently launched by the AMWU. New South Wales secretary Tim Ayres echoed the sentiments of the union and claimed that the agreement could spell out missed opportunities for apprentices.

"This deal will mean that on very ordinary construction projects in our cities and our suburbs, that an investment of just 15 per cent will allow the company to import Chinese workers at lower wages and conditions, denying young construction workers and young apprentices the opportunity for work," Ayres told the ABC.

However, Trade Minister Andrew Robb attributed the campaign to being a "purely and simply a xenophobic scare campaign designed to distract attention away from the Royal Commission into union corruption".

"What [the deal] does is ensure that if there is a multi-million ... dollar project, which may take a year or two to design and get ready before construction, that companies have the certainty," Robb said.

"If they sign up to one of these agreements what it says, is that if and when you are ready to start this project, if there's a shortage of certain sorts of skills — maybe they want 30 types of welders that aren't available at the time — [and] they've got to prove that they're not available in Australia — then they will over a short period of time be allowed to bring in suitably qualified welders."

However, Hans Hendrischke, a Chinese investment research specialist at Sydney University's Business School begs to differ. He believes that dozens of Chinese workers sweating blood and tears on project sites is an unlikely scenario.

"During the mining boom of course the idea from the Chinese side was that they would be able to reduce costs quite considerably by bringing in Chinese labour," Hendrischke said.

"Of course now that is not really the major issue any more. I don't see at the moment any big projects where it's quite likely that they would try to bring in labour. And I think their intention was to actually bring in more specialised, more technical personnel than actual labour."

Kate Carnell AO, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "it is disappointing that some groups have stoked fear among Australians that the agreement would lead to unqualified overseas workers. This campaign is damaging to Australia's interests and our relationship with China, a key trading partner."

Manufacturing Workers Union warns Australian workers could miss out under new China FTA deal
Trade minister reassures workers China FTA won't threaten Australian jobs

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