The deal between the Labor Party and the Coalition Government to reduce the risk of jobs being needlessly lost to imported workforces under the China Free Trade Agreement is a positive step but falls far short of failsafe protections, the AMWU believes.
AMWU National secretary Paul Bastian said union campaigning had succeeded in beefing up the labour testing protections for Australian workers yet concerns remain the deal is more of a soft political fix than good policy.
That’s because the union movement had advocated changing the Migration Act to compel employers to conduct local labour testing on major projects under CHAFTA before any foreign workers could be imported.
Instead, only the migration regulations will be toughened to ensure employers have made genuine efforts to recruit Australians, rather than an amendment to the Act itself which would have had become law by being voted on in Parliament.
“Our campaigning for a fair outcome for both Australian and foreign workers forced political leaders to negotiate and make some progress, but Labor and the Government should not think for a second that this political deal is enough,” Mr Bastian said.
“It’s definitely a fair improvement, but workers deserve better and we’ll keep up the pressure until they can be confident that CHAFTA and trade agreements generally deliver for all Australians.”
Mr Bastian noted that Trade Minister Andrew Robb had committed to amend the project agreement and labour market guidelines to add extra criteria before the Immigration Minister gave approval, including analysis of labour market need, training plans and overseas worker support plans.
But he said the key concern over the entire political deal was that it variously relied on trusting the discretion of the Immigration Minister – Peter Dutton - to interpret the regulations and to ensure effective enforcement.
Mr Bastian said the fact the Coalition Government had blinked and made concessions when faced with massive opposition to CHAFTA proved it had always known their original proposal risked replacing local jobs with exploited foreign labour.
“They are effectively admitting they have been misleading the public about the safeguards for Australian workers around CHAFTA for months,” he said.
“We will keep seeking a public commitment from the ALP that the next Labor Government will change the Migration Act, not just toy with the regulations.”.
The compromise between the ALP and Government also does not do enough to protect those foreign workers brought in on projects, as it fails to increase the minimum threshold salary for a 457 Visa worker to $57,000 as sought by unions.
Instead, the threshold will be reviewed and new regulations introduced stating no 457 Visa worker be paid less than Australians working on the same job.
“The recent past has shown us that the Immigration Department lacks the resources to effectively implement any new regulations and guidelines that are passed as part of this process,” Mr Bastian said.
“A lack of enforcement and resourcing has led to wide scale rorting of 457 visas in the past and nothing in this agreement gives us any confidence it won’t continue.
“The challenge for Government is to crack down on rogue employers and rogue migration agents so it won’t just be business as usual.”