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Why Blue Collar Aussies Worry About the China Free Trade Agreement

China Australia FTA signing
When the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed, nobody expected it would be so hotly debated. (Image: Andrew Robb/Facebook)

It was supposed to be a game-changer, but now the proposed China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) has become one of the most divisive government proposals since the Australian election two years earlier.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb claims the latest government modelling shows ChAFTA will create 178,000 new jobs by the year 2035.

However, worker unions oppose the trade deal’s alleged failure to protect Australian jobs, where a project’s capital expenditure exceeds A$150 million, saying the job predictions are nowhere near the 100,000-mark.

Official modelling shows forecast jobs are inflated

The Sydney Morning Herald reveals, official modelling commissioned to the Centre for International Economics shows that just 5434 additional jobs will be created by the year 2035 – well short of Robb’s hundred thousand-plus figure.

It is not only the inflated number of jobs that are worrying worker unions, but also what the trade deal potentially means for local job security.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) recently told the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties the ChAFTA is “not in the interests” of Australian workers.

“Government talks about jobs, but this deal does not deliver them for local unemployed people, and they have not been upfront about what they have traded away,” ACTU said in a public statement.

“Any trade deal must put the interests of local workers first.”

The union fears:

  • This deal removes labor market testing, meaning jobs do not have to be offered to local workers first.
  • The deal allows – via investment facilitation agreements – Chinese companies with projects worth $150 million or more, or those with a 15 per cent stake to negotiate ‘concessions’ to bring in lower-skilled workers, with lower-level English language than would otherwise be allowed under the standard 457 visa program, and avoid labor market testing – and pay workers lower wages.
  • A side letter removes the requirement for mandatory skills assessments for a range of trades, including automotive electricians, mechanics, and carpenters – and commits Australia, and China to work towards eliminating the remaining occupations subject to mandatory skills assessment within five years.

Watch how the labour market testing could be affected:

Government refutes union claims

The government has responded to these claims by publishing a myths versus realities fact sheet on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten vows to oppose the ChAFTA in its current form, calling it a “dud deal”.

However, Robb slammed Shorten for “peddling CFMEU lies” about the Investment Facilitation Arrangement (IFA) linked to the ChAFTA.

“This is completely, and utterly false as Mr Shorten knows. During … [the] Joint Standing Committee on Treaties hearing on the ChAFTA it was again made crystal clear that under the IFA, Australian workers must have been provided with first opportunity for jobs through labor market testing,” Robb said in a public statement.

“Proponents must provide evidence of their domestic recruitment efforts for each requested occupation, including advertising undertaken within the past six months … instead of continuing to peddle Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) lies, Bill Shorten should act not in his own interests but in the national interest, and support this agreement.”

PR stunt aims to rally support

Parliamentary Secretary Steven Ciobo has been sent on what appears to be a public relations mission to Mainland China, to support the ChAFTA.

He met with political, and business leaders in Guangdong Province to re-affirm the Australian Government’s commitment to the trade deal.

“While Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are being economic vandals by threatening to vote against the FTA, the Australian Government is doing everything we can to ensure it comes into force, so Australia reaps the rewards,” Ciobo said in a public statement.

“The Australian Government, and business community stand strongly behind the China-Australia FTA. It’s the single largest trade deal we’ve ever achieved, and will create thousands of jobs for Australians.”

Not all businesses support ChAFTA

However, not all business groups are totally in favor of the deal, with the Australia Industry Group (Ai Group) showing reservations about the value of the ChAFTA.

“It is difficult to understand why our negotiators accepted such an unbalanced deal,” Ai Group said in a public statement posted on the CFMEU Facebook page.

CFMEU Ai Group comment

Not all business groups are very supportive of the ChAFTA. (Image: CFMEU/Facebook)

ACTU maintains its position the ChAFTA is a “dud deal” that has to be revised.

“With unemployment sitting unacceptably high at 6.3 per cent, in double digits for some regions, and more than 800,000 people out of work for the first time in 20 years, why would our government sign a trade deal that does not give job opportunities to local workers first?” ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly said in a public statement.

“Any trade deal must put the interests of local workers first, and we want this deal renegotiated.”

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