The China- Australia Free trade agreement: Australia will not longer belong to Australians

The Union is strongly opposing the China-Australia Free trade agreement, saying the Australian Government is putting jobs at risk. Kathleen O’Connor gives both sides the right of reply to investigate what this agreement really means for Australian jobs.

Source: theglobeandmail.com

Where are all the jobs? Whether you have just graduated University or you have been made redundant in Australia’s struggling market, many Australians are asking the same question.

The China-Australia free trade agreement was officially signed in Canberra on June 17 2015 under the Abbott government. The Agreement was signed by Australia’s minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb and the Chinese commerce minister, Mr. Gao Hucheng.

It was brought forth to parliament on the September 16 2015 to effectively implement the legislation into effect. Both Countries must complete their domestic making processes before the free trade agreement enters into force. The Australian Government estimates that chAFTA (China-Australia Free Trade agreement) will be in force by the end of 2015.

Gough Whitlam was the first political leader who believed global relations were important, particularly with China. Negotiations of a free trade agreement with China started back in 2005 under the Howard Government. It was then passed on to other labor leader (Kevin Rudd) who pushed for the implementation and then it was passed on again to another liberal government (Tony Abbott).

Australia’s minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb explains the economical benefits of chAFTA and how Australians will be better off.

“ChAFTA will add billions to the economy, create jobs and drive higher living standards for Australians,” he announced in a press release.

“This is a really big move for opening up global trade,” Malcolm Turnbull told 3AW, “with enormous benefits to Australian’s”.

A media release by the Prime Minister and Minister for trade and investment, states ‘Australia will have “unprecedented access” to the world’s second largest economy’.

But, it will allow greater Chinese investment in Australian and allowing more Chinese workers to work in Australia on a temporary skilled migration visa.

Under the new Free-Trade Agreement, up to 1,800 people Chinese people will be allowed to enter Australia as contractual service suppliers and stay for a three-year maximum duration unless approved by a listed body. A listed body could be the Chinese company importing them into Australia- so there are negotiations to be made when this deal goes through parliament.

How can this Free-Trade Agreement create jobs for the already 780,600 unemployed Australians when Australians are now made to share jobs with the Chinese?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of employed people decreased by 5100 in September 2015, with males suffering from the highest unemployment rate. Around 11,000 males have been laid off from full-time employment in the latest Labour Force report.

Males dominate the trade industry business, and it is believed that they are being replaced with Chinese workers.

In another 2015 report by the ABS, Trade union membership of employees has significantly declined over recent years, with 2014 having the lowest proportion in the history of the series. From August 1992 to 2014 the number of male employees in Australia who had trade union memberships dropped from 43.4% to only 14.4%.

Source: ABS.gov.au

These statistics imply that the risk of sudden unemployment or inability to get a job within the trade industry is already at risk, even without the implementation of the China-Australia Free Trade agreement.

Former editor of The Age, Tim Colebatch, warns citizens ‘the Australian economy is not doing as well as we think’.

“In little over three years from early 2005 to May 2008, Australia’s working age population grew by just under a million,” he says.

“Half a decade later, Australia’s working age population grew by just over a million people. Yet this time the number of jobs grew by only 385,000…so for every one hundred extra adults we generated just thirty-eight new jobs.”

Joanna Howe a labor and migration law expert tells The Age, “The unions argue the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement gives Chinese companies unrestricted access to our labour market and threatens Australian jobs, wages and conditions.”

According to a report by The University of Sydney, Chinese investment into Australian infrastructure has increased from previous years to 21% in 2014. 46% of all Chinese investments went into buying Australian property and land to generate a profit.

21% investment into Infrastruture and 46% into commercial real estate, prove China has a sizable mark on Australian soil. Source: http://www.kpmg.com/au/en/issuesandinsights/articlespublications/china-insights/pages/default.aspx

‘For the first time, nearly half of Chinese investment was concentrated in commercial real estate transactions’, the report read.

There were four transactions with values over $500 million, that went into Australians construction, major port infrastructure and mining industries. It’s safe to say that China has a large footprint in Australian businesses.

The number of total Australian job vacancies in August 2015 increased by 2.2% from May 2015 in an August ABS report. The number of private sector jobs rose by 2.4% from May 2015, while public sector jobs only rose by 0.6% from May 2015.

The trade union argues that not only do these statistics support their job-loss claims for Australians, but also it would have negative impacts on both Australian and Chinese workers.

Lance McCallum, The National Policy officer from the Electrical Trade Union told the ABC, “Australian workers will miss out on thousands of job opportunities”.

“We have also got concerns for those [Chinese] workers that their conditions could be exploited by unscrupulous employers,” he says.

Dr. Joanna Howe, a labor and migration law expert writes in The Age, although it is true Chinese workers will need to be employed in compliance with Australian law there are ways around this.

“Concessions can be granted to allow a Chinese company to negotiate via a private contract with the Department of Immigration to bring Chinese workers in to work on a project in lower skilled occupations, with lower level English-language ability and for a salary lower than the minimum threshold applicable to 457 visa holders.”

Most trades have already been battling to find full time work arguably being ‘overqualified’. With the implementation of this free trade agreement, the trade industry will be further exposed to imported Chinese Labor in many Chinese owned companies in Australia.

John*, a union member and linesman employee tells Upstart that the Trade industry is struggling and he fears for his job.

“We will are already losing jobs, we have been losing jobs for a long time,” he says.

“Most of the men I started my trade with have been laid off because these buisnesses cannot compete with the Chinese…and now the Chinese are going to take over my job.”

According to the Free Trade Agreement, Chinese businesses in Australia have to advertise jobs locally before they import overseas workers. The problem with this is, all they have to do advertise the job online and if they don’t get an adequate response, they can employ someone from overseas who may not be as skilled.

View Interactive map: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/9108290-china

Labor leader, Bill Shorten expressed labors concerns in relation to the China-Australia free trade agreement, saying that priority will be given to Australian workers, they will be enforcing Australian labor standards and conditions and making sure that overseas workers meet Australian safety and skill standards.

The Shadow minister for Trade and investment, Penny Wong highlighted what the Labor government had achieved in Parliament so far.

“We argued previously, consistently, for safeguards in three specific areas. We wanted a requirement in relation to labour market testing, we wanted to protect Australian wages and conditions and we wanted to uphold workplace skills and standards, and the package that we have agreed, with the Government, delivers legal safeguards in these three areas,” Wong said.

“This is about Australian jobs, it’s about a safety net of decent wages and conditions for all workers, and the outcomes we have achieved will be legally binding.”

But this is something that hasn’t happened in the past and could very well be over sighted.

Back in 2012, when Australian unemployment was at it’s lowest point, Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed off on Mining magnate Gina Rinehart to employ more than 1700 foreign workers.

Senior left-wing MP Doug Cameron said he was shocked when he heard that none of MP’s was actually informed of this decision.

“I am shocked that, while workers are being marched off the job at Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine…Chinese workers are going to be marching on the job in the Pilbara,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

The Australian government has signed a Free-Trade Agreement that allows Chinese workers to take Australian jobs under an Investment Facilitation Program and there is nothing we can do about it.

It is only a matter of time before the job crisis gets really bad and Australians have to start adopting a ‘one child policy’ of their own.

*Upstart tried contacting The Department of Foreign Affairs who failed to answer a number of questions regarding the protection of Australian jobs, as this story went to press.

Kathleen O’Connor is a Masters of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter: @k_oconnor1.