Race to the bottom for workers’ rights
The RCEP could increase the number of temporary migrant workers in Australia, without testing whether local workers are available.
Temporary workers are already vulnerable to exploitation because they are tied to ne employer and can be deported if they complain. Without stronger protections in place, this would lead to a race to the bottom on workers’ pay and conditions.
This will create more exploitation and wage theft for vulnerable workers, exposed by recent research.
Wíthout strong, enforceable workers’ rights based on International Labour Organisation standards, the RCEP could contribute to a global race to the bottom on workers’ rights.
Deregulated global production chains have resulted in job losses in industrialised countries, and a race to the bottom as low income countries compete for investment with no effective workers’ rights, health or safety regulation.
A notorious case was the 2013 Bangladesh clothing factory disaster, where workers with no rights were ordered back into a substandard building which then collapsed, killing 1300 mostly women and children. This factory was one of many supplying major Australian retailers.
Fair trade agreements with enforceable workers’ rights would be one way to curb this downward spiral and ensure workers’ rights are enforced across borders. But the RCEP so far has no chapter on enforceable workers' rights.
Berg L., and Farbenblum, B., (2017) Wage theft in Australia: findings of the national temporary worker survey
- Report of the Senate Inquiry into Temporary work Visas “A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders” March 2016
- New visas threaten Australian jobs, Sydney Morning Herald, June 6 2016
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Updated: November 2018