China FTA could be a giant job killer
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.