ACTU blasts secret Chinese deals

Chinese workers are being brought to Australia under secret deals with pay rates far below our minimum wage.

The China Australia Free Trade Agreement (Chafta) allows for secret deals between Australia’s Department of Immigration and Chinese firms investing in Australia, according to the ACTU, which represents members of 38 affiliated unions.

Under Chafta, Chinese workers brought to Australia have no right to bargain for wages and can be paid as little as $10 an hour, the ACTU says.

Chafta measures that disadvantage Australian workers and weaken the labour rights of Chinese workers are outlined in an ACTU submission to a review of Chafta being conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Negotiated between the Coalition federal government and the Chinese government, Chafta has been operating for two years.

“Anecdotal evidence of Chinese workers being abused has already been identified,” the submission says.

“Fairfax Media reported on Chinese welders being paid $US70 a day, a fraction of the going rate for a lift industry worker of $42 an hour. It is also below the national minimum wage, which is currently $18.29 for a full-time adult worker.

“The workers received no pay slips, no penalties, no superannuation, and had no WorkCover insurance.”

Australian workers at a disadvantage

The ACTU says Chafta puts Australian workers at a disadvantage with Chinese workers by removing labour market testing for infrastructure projects.

These are defined as projects worth over $150 million and which have a minimum 15 per cent Chinese funding.

That means Chinese companies in Australia can import workers for those projects without first advertising job vacancies in Australia.

Rather than bringing in foreign workers on short-term contracts, Australia’s migration program should focus on permanent migration where workers enter Australia independently, the submission says.

“This gives migrants a greater stake in Australia’s long-term future and it removes many of the ‘bonded labour’-type problems that can arise with temporary migration where a worker is dependent on their employer for their sponsorship and ongoing prospects of staying in Australia.”

ACTU President Ged Kearney says no group of workers should be exempt from Australian labour law based on their country of birth.

“We have seen stories of migrant workers being paid well below the minimum wage and being pushed through vital safety briefings that they had no way of understanding.

“The Turnbull Government is endorsing the exploitation of migrant labour that ultimately means Australians needing work cannot get jobs.”