Working Life
Abbott and Xi-handshake

China FTA could be a giant job killer


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By Mark Phillips

Editor of Working Life

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

DON’T try telling Dale Saddington that the proposed free trade agreement with China will be a boost to Australian jobs.

Mr Saddington, 30, a fourth year plastering apprentice, was laid off a fortnight ago and has no immediate prospects of finding permanent work in a trade that in recent years has seen an influx of workers from China on temporary visas.

The timing could not be worse with Mr Saddington and his wife Suzie having just moved into a new house and their first child was due to be born last Sunday. He has been picking up cash-in-hand jobs here and there but expects that to dry up over Christmas-new year.

Now, with the free trade agreement to allow even more Chinese workers into Australia, he is considering a different career with better job prospects.

“At a recent job, when we rocked up, the sparkies and other trades were surprised because they were used to seeing Chinese plasterers out there and said it had been a couple of years since they had seen Aussie plasterers on a job,” he says.

“I knew it was getting worse, I didn’t realise it was this bad when I lost my job.”

Government on the defensive

Just a little over 24 hours after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the conclusion of negotiations, the government was on the back foot defending the agreement against claims it would undermine Australian jobs.

Rather than receiving plaudits for new access to agricultural markets or cheaper consumer imports, the public attention has been on the threat the deal’s lower import tariffs cast on Australian manufacturing.

And unions are also concerned that clauses in the agreement encouraging increased temporary labour migration from China will cost Australian workers their jobs at a time of high and growing unemployment.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz today spruiked the FTA as “exceptionally good news for Australian workers”.

“Why this is hitting a raw nerve at a time of high unemployment?” he said on ABC radio.

“The way you get rid of high unemployment is through free trade agreements which allow us to play to our strengths . . . So every unemployed worker should see this free trade agreement as a very real opportunity for them, their families, their sons and daughters, to be able to gain employment in circumstances where we now have access to the world’s largest market.”

“Do something to help your own people.”

— Dale Saddington

But based on his own experience and observations of the construction and building industry, Mr Saddington says that is rubbish.

“This is like my fourth or fifth employer because they just can’t get work, the guys on temporary visas are coming over and undercutting everybody because they can get them half price,” he says.

“It’s just ridiculous. I heard on the news about how the [Victorian] Napthine Government is going to do something for apprentices, but what’s the point of that when they’ve got no work anyway? Do something to help your own people.”

Mr Saddington says he has come across Chinese workers on temporary visas being paid less than half what is the standard in Australia.

“I was at a job in Parkville and we didn’t have enough guys on site so my boss sub-contracted plasterers from another company and they were all Asians.

“There was only one guy who could speak English and I spoke to that guy at lunchtime and asked him what are you guys on and he said $16.50 an hour, and qualified plasterers are on $35 an hour. How are we supposed to compete with that?”

But Senator Abetz insisted the exploitation Mr Saddington had witnessed should not be happening.

“If anybody is aware of any agreement that sees workers being paid less than the Australian standard, they should make the relevant authorities know about that as a matter of absolute urgency.

“Because we don’t want to see Australian workers’ conditions being undercut through these mechanisms, and if people want to play that game, they will have the full force of the Australian law to deal with.”

Come clean on jobs impact, says ACTU

ACTU President Ged Kearney called on the Abbott Government to come clean on the impact the proposed China free trade agreement would have on Australian jobs.

She said the scant information provided by the Government was deliberately vague but certainly proves there will be considerably less protections for Australian jobs.

“The Abbott Government claims Australian jobs will be protected because the current rules on labour market testing – that genuine skills shortages must exist and jobs have to be advertised locally before foreign workers can come in – will apply to the Chinese deal,” Ms Kearney said.

“Apart from the fact that these current labour market testing rules are woefully inadequate, the Government’s own information on the trade deal doesn’t even make this guarantee clear.”

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Scott Martin
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 10:40 am · Reply

    All the right wing LNP whingers that complained on a daily basis regarding the last Labor Government and their handling of the conveniently forgotten GFC should be up in arms about a deal that will put more pressure on Australian jobs and industry.
    Can you hear them…..the silence is deafening apart from their hero Alan Jones who for once has put his political bias aside to tell it as it really is!!!

  2. Cassandra
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 11:35 am · Reply

    Abbott said that we do not have to worry about Australian Jobs being taken by Chinese workers because they will be paid Australian Rates. Not Australian AWARD rates mind you but Australian rates. Weasel words because that could mean any rate of pay above the minimum and is most likely to be a local agreement put up by the Chinese employer a few dollars more than the minimum but well below the Award.

    Also with the Chinese now allowed to buy into Australia to the tune of up to a billion dollars a project without foreign investment review a lot of Australians could find themselves working for new employers who will want to rewrite their awards in line with Abbott government policy of keeping unions out and lowering wages and conditions. It will be a case of sign up or we will bring in our own workers. Same goes for our dairy farmers. Already under severe stress they are ripe for Chinese take over with an ‘offer they cannot refuse’. Then the Chinese have full control over the producing and sale of dairy produce from farm to retail, along with the profits. Nice one Tony!

    Can Abbott explain why, if there is all this money in Banks and Company vaults and Superannuation Funds just looking for investment opportunities why they are not investing in Australia and its people?

    Sure there will be millions to be made in China or India but there will be very little work for Australians there and no profits to be returned. Any company accountant worth his or her pay will quickly set up a shelf company in an overseas tax haven and funnel their Australian cash through that to China and the profits will remain off shore out of reach of our stupid government. Also, as our major construction companies rush to take advantage of cheap labour and lucrative projects overseas the void here will no doubt be filled by Chinese ‘investors’ moving into house and infrastructure building – using their cheaper labour , of course! Win Win for the local and foreign money men but sweet naff all for us locals.

    Even what is left of our clothing and textile industry will be under siege from even more cheap imports and our manufacturing industry, what is left of it after Abbott’s sabotage will similarly be swamped by ‘free trade’ imports.

    So far Abbott nor any other government spokes person has informed us where all the local employment and living standards improvements are going to come from following these ‘free trade’ deals? No specifics what ever and a few more cheap clothes and cars on the market will not feed and house families with lower incomes or no jobs and no prospects thanks to reduced education and health services.

    With the advent of GPS guided draglines, dump trucks and railway locos the labour content of new and existing coal mines will shrink and the operators could as well be sitting in Shanghai as here.

    As for the live export cattle industry – the only way we are going to get any where near Abbotts ‘million head of cattle a year’ is to raise them in huge feed lots – virtual animal Belsen’s from birth here to death in China. A few jobs for hard hearted ‘jailers’, and certainly nothing to be proud of in pursuit of a dollar. The Cattle Barons are even salivating already at the prospect of meat shortages here and thus higher domestic prices. We could even have the bizarre situation where Supermarket chains are importing meat and dairy products from overseas because the local producers are fully contracted to China and India !

    Worse of all we, the Australian people, whose representatives these politicians are supposed to be will not even tell us the full details of their so called ‘free trade’ deals with foreign governments until after they have been signed and implemented. These deals will then be legally enforceable in the international courts and the principle of ‘free trade’ between signatories could be held to over ride local laws and conditions. This is already happening overseas as some countries are starting to find out when companies trading from them fail to pay taxes and charges citing that these are an impediment to ‘free trade’! We will not know just how much Abbott and the Liberal States are signing away until it is too late!

    The Union movement and the Labor Party has every right to be wary of these ‘free trade’ deals being signed by the Abbott government without full parliamentary scrutiny and approval and public debate and the ALP should make it quite clear that where provisions are found to be detrimental to Australian companies, workers and laws they reserve to right to cancel then without penalty or restitution following the election of a Labor Government.

  3. Andrew
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 12:58 pm · Reply

    What we need is a strong leader who puts the prosperity of the nation and it’s people ahead of the prosperity of multi national companies and foreign investors. Sadly this is not something likely to be found in either of the two major political parties in this country. Tony Abbott is proving true to is word as a “workers best friend” as long as that worker is not Australian and Bill Shorten is as inspiring and as overtime on a friday unfortunately. We need a real alternative, not another puppet who’s strings are pulled by all apart from those who elected them.

  4. jason
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 3:03 pm · Reply

    This is a message i posted to the Sydney Morning Herald .. Jase Sheaffy wrote on The Sydney Morning Herald –’s timeline.

    Your Front page headline should be reading AUSTRALIA SOLD TO INTERNATIONAL CORPORATIONS re your printed article on page 6 of today’s SMH on the new FTA with China. The Investor State Dispute Settlement clause [ ISDS ] has been included in the trade agreement basically saying to any worldwide corporation can now sue the Australian government if the see fit to change laws to protect it’s citizens. Unlikely scenario but a reality #1 A Chinese company decides it wants to build a nuclear power plant on the grounds of the opera house. If the government introduces a law saying that nuclear power plants must not be in the CBD then the company proposing the idea can sue the Australian government for billions in lost revenue.
    Sound ridiculous ? not so. the impoverished nation of El Salvador government is being sued for hundreds of millions for putting laws into place protecting the water of one of it’s major cities, so the company polluting and taking the water away from the major city has filed a law suit that has the potential to send the nation broke. Due to the ISDS clause the courts may have no option other than to award the polluters millions of dollars.
    Scenario #2 A Chinese corporation decides to buy every single house in Australia as investments , the Australian government realises that there will be no houses left for Australians and tries to put a law into place to prevent 100% ownership from overseas investment. The company decides to sue the Australian government for billions or even trillions in lost revenue.
    Australia, because MR Abbott signed the Free trade agreement with the Chinese government now does not have a leg to stand on and are ripe for the picking , thanks Mister Abbott you certainly have made your mark on the Australian landscape unfortunately it is because you have sold us out.

  5. jason
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 3:14 pm · Reply

    A major mining company is suing El Salvador for millions — just for saying no to a dirty mine that would have destroyed its remaining water supply.

    A mining corporation shouldn’t get to decide what laws a country can and can’t pass. With just one week remaining before the hearing begins, we need to get OceanaGold to back down now.

    Sign the petition asking Oceana Gold to drop the lawsuit and respect El Salvador’s decision.

    90% of El Salvador’s water is already polluted, putting families and communities in danger of waterborne illness, food shortages and the added expense of buying bottled water. If OceanaGold gets its way, it could destroy the last remaining river with drinkable water in this Central American country.

    Already, the mining industry has devastated El Salvador. The community of San Sebastian is being forced to buy bottled water after a mining company contaminated its water supply. Community activists have risked their lives opposing mining companies, including Dora Alicia Recinos Soto, who was shot dead in front of her house while 8 months pregnant and carrying her 2-year-old baby.

    The hearing for the case is in less than a week away, so we have to act now to make sure OceanaGold drops this frivolous lawsuit.

    Sign the petition asking OceanaGold to drop the lawsuit against El Salvador for trying to save its water

    The government of El Salvador has already denied OceanaGold a mining license for its El Dorado mine, because it failed to comply with national regulations protecting human rights and the environment. But instead of conceding to this democratic decision, OceanaGold is now relying on dangerous “Investor State Arbitration” — rules created under international trade treaties that allow foreign corporations to sue national governments for billions just to get their way.

    OceanaGold has repeatedly proven it cares only about profits — not the people of El Salvador. Now, it’s time the company listened.

    Add your voice to ask Oceana to drop the lawsuit against El Salvador for trying to save its water?

    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 4:50 pm · Reply

    That’s Tony Abbott. WHO VOTED FOR HIM

  7. steve g
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 8:15 pm · Reply

    Get a proper licensed trade and you’ll be ok. Throwing up bits of gyprocked isn’t a trade any more than planting lawn is. If you’re no good at school try hard as a machinist or plumber or if you’re smart enough become a sparky. We lose this imposters by natural attrition not complain that they work for a few $ less an hour

    • David Evans
      Friday, 21 November, 2014 at 11:53 am · Reply

      steve g, would you read that again and see if it still makes any sense to you?

  8. Michael Craigmile
    Wednesday, 19 November, 2014 at 8:48 pm · Reply

    The award rates exist for a reason. It should be legislation set in concrete, and reinforced by legislation upon legislation that there is no justification for undermining them. To undermine them is treason, and there are no ifs or buts.
    Treason! Remove all involved from public office promptly and arrest them.
    It should be very simple. We cannot have these things happening in OUR country. We cannot have the government, which WE OWN, working against Australians. Arrest them immediately.

  9. Mike cruttenden
    Thursday, 20 November, 2014 at 10:37 am · Reply

    Free trade is not free. It will cost you all manufacturing jobs. How are you to compete with labour costs in country that has no interest in human rights and civil rights. Where prison labour is used in products that you have to compete in your market place. It is spiral to lower paying jobs. The government of Canada is the same corporate bag lickers that you have in Australia. They sell out the country and the future generations for few pieces of silver! Union guy on strike against Crown Cork Seal for 14 months in Toronto Canada. We are fighting against corporate greed! This is world wide fight with the U.S.W. ,Unite, Industrial, Metal worker fighting in Canada,Columbia,Turkey!

  10. ben
    Friday, 21 November, 2014 at 1:23 am · Reply

    There’s a massive hole in this story, one minute his boss didn’t have enough work, the next minute he was so busy he needed to hire extra Chinese workers…. Doesn’t add up…

  11. Barry Healy
    Friday, 21 November, 2014 at 11:36 am · Reply

    I don’t trust these Free Trade Agreements at all. Obviously there will be attempts to undermine safety standards and wages.

    However, there is another side to that: Australian unions must organise those “guest” workers and win decent wages and conditions for them.

    If unions don’t prepare for that then we will be giving the ground of struggle over to the racist right wing.

    Organising those foreign workers and taking them through lessons of struggle will give them skills to go home with and improve things in their homelands.

    The fact of the world now is that capital is free to wander wherever it wants to seek out profit. Unions have to internationalise in response.

  12. MaxB
    Friday, 21 November, 2014 at 12:33 pm · Reply

    Sure I agree, Labor made mistakes while they were in power, but wake up voters, the only way we will get any protection for Australians again is to vote Labor back into power . Stop bitching about your conditions and join a union, it is more cost effect in the long term. Unions always contribute to having Labor regain power at an election. The Union’s Barrister’s job is to go to court and fight for your wage rises which is expensive, however negotiating your own wage contract is never going to work to your advantage because it is in the employer’s interest to take advantage of you whenever he can and the snide bastards do it regularly.

  13. Dr Jennifer Grant (Jary)
    Friday, 21 November, 2014 at 5:41 pm · Reply

    I have very special skills which were developed after Gough Whitlam became PM and I can help. Please ask Ged Kearney who I admire very much to get in touch directly. I am also running in the NSW state election as a Labor candidate in my married name so you can check me out.

  14. Shaun Newman
    Saturday, 22 November, 2014 at 4:40 pm · Reply

    I would say that the Chinese Communist Party knows a good deal for “them” when they see it.

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