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Issue #1700      September 2, 2015

Action on free trade agreements

To coincide with the Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties sitting in major cities around Australia, unions have been organising rallies to help raise awareness of the pitfalls lurking in free trade agreements which erode their working conditions.

The Perth rally held on August 25 opposite the Western Australian parliament.
The Perth rally held on August 25 opposite the Western Australian parliament.

Rallies have already been held in other capital cities and on August 25 a rally of over 1,000 workers was held outside Solidarity Park opposite the Western Australian parliament.

The rally was organised by the Electrical Trades Union and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and supported by Unions WA and those unions who would be affected most by the provisions contained in the proposed free trade agreement between Australia and China i.e. the Chapter 10 Provisions. While the traditional blue collar unions (CFMEU, ETU, MUA, AMWU, Plumbers Union) were there in force, solidarity was also extended from service unions such as United Voice, Community and Public Sector Unions, Australian Services Union, Financial Services Union, State School Teachers Union and the Railway, Bus Transport Union.

The unions are concerned that agreement allows Chinese companies to bring in their own workforces where the project is worth over $150 million (with as little as 15% stake in the project) and it also allows for trade qualifications to be undermined.

Allen Hicks, National Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union also added that the agreement removed mandatory skills assessments for workers coming to Australia for a range of high risk trades including the electrical trades, replacing it instead with a desktop audit by .immigration staff who are faintly equipped to understand the requirements of a workers skills to enable them to work safely here. The audit must be done within 90 days.

The state secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Chris Cain, was the next speaker.

Cain expressed his contempt for the corporations such as Chevron who sought to line their pockets with even more profits from the operation of free trade agreements, when they already did not pay any corporate income tax – not one dollar in the past year. The billions that corporations such as Chevron avoided could have been used to fund infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals and pay for the up-skilling of workers.

Cain also advised the rally that recently when crew members on board a Chinese-owned vessel had fallen sick with Legionnaires disease, he put his union’s resources at the disposal of the ship to ensure that both Chinese and Australian crew were rescued and taken to hospital, including one worker in an induced coma. “We didn’t just look after the Australians, we looked after the Chinese crew as well.”

Mick Buchan, state secretary of the CFMEU reminded the rally, “It is trade unions which do more for migrant workers than most other groups in this country by recovering underpaid wages.”

Buchan added that the upcoming by-election in the federal seat of Canning was an opportunity for workers who lived in the mostly working class electorate. It includes areas such as Armadale and Mandurah which have high levels of youth unemployment as well as over-50s attempting to regain a foothold in the workforce.

The Communist Party of Australia stands with workers and trade unions in voicing their concern at aspects of the trade deal. The CPA supports the just demands of workers in Australia for the protection of local jobs, rates of pay, conditions and skills assessments and the right to industrial action to protect those rights.

Next article – Money and injury – big changes afoot

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