China FTA review should ditch temporary worker clause

1 April 2017: The Australian and Chinese governments recently announced a review of the Investment Facilitation Memorandum of Understanding attached to the China-Australia free trade agreement.

The MOU is the controversial clause allowing employers with infrastructure projects valued at only $150 million with a minimum of 15 per cent Chinese investment to bring in unlimited numbers of temporary skilled workers without testing if local workers are available. No other Australian trade agreement has similar arrangements.

The agreement allows relatively small investment projects to bypass the local workforce and employ many workers at a minimum rate for temporary migrant workers which is lower than the rates paid to local workers under enterprise agreements.

It allows the workers to be tied to one employer, isolated from the local workforce and extremely vulnerable to exploitation. The projects are supposed to comply with the Australian workforce law but there is no clear means of enforcement.

However, the MOU is separate from the main trade agreement, is not legally binding and can be easily cancelled by the Australian Government.

AFTINET is pushing for the Australian Government to use the review as an opportunity to ditch the MOU. Read our media release here.

We have seen many examples of temporary migrant workers being exploited in Australia and more regulation is needed.

Including such arrangements in or alongside trade agreements treats workers as commodities and is unacceptable.