THE China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) appears set to get the green light in Parliament after Labor and the government agreed to changes relating to jobs.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment Penny Wong today announced the package of safeguards Labor had secured.
The changes impact three specific areas including requiring labour market testing, protecting Australian wages and conditions, and upholding workplace skills and safety standards.
"Having secured these outcomes, Labor will support the ChAFTA enabling legislation in Parliament, which will allow Australian exporters to gain improved access to the Chinese market at the earliest opportunity," Senator Wong said in a statement.
Under an agreement negotiated between Labor and the Turnbull government, employers entering migration work agreements including under ChAFTA Investment Facilitation Arrangements will be required to conduct labour market testing.
The new obligations will be written into the Migration Regulations, ensuring they are legally binding.
Labor has also secured agreement to a series of additional safeguards for work agreements.
These include requiring employers to adopt training plans showing how they will train local workers, and overseas worker support plans showing how they will support subclass 457 visa workers.
These requirements will be included in Immigration Department guidelines for work agreements and will be underpinned by a new Migration Regulation.
There will also be changes to market salary rate requirements for 457 visa workers to ensure temporary skilled migration does not undermine Australian wages and conditions.
The Migration Regulations will be amended to provide that wage rates under enterprise agreements will be used as a benchmark for assessing whether 457 visa workers are being paid market salaries.
The government has agreed to consider Labor’s proposal to increase and index the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold as part of a review.
New visa conditions will be created requiring 457 visa workers in licenced trade occupations not to work unless they hold a licence, to obtain the relevant licence within 90 days of arriving in Australia and to notify the Immigration Department if refused a licence.
Overseas workers breaching these conditions will risk visa cancellation. Their employers would face sanctions such as having their approval to sponsor 457 workers cancelled.
The government has agreed to consult the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, which includes the ACTU, in developing policy measures to tackle exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers.
Labor says its package of jobs safeguards do not breach ChAFTA, do not require it to be renegotiated and do not discriminate against Chinese workers or companies.
Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said the provisions agreed to with Labor would not in any way change or contravene the binding commitments the government has made to China through the FTA negotiations.
"Nor will they in any way discriminate against our biggest trading partner," Mr Dutton said in a statement.
"The agreement reached with the Opposition represents both a sensible outcome, which does not increase the current costs to business associated with 457 visa holders and major progress in terms of doing all we can to get this agreement into force as soon as possible so that the substantial benefits can begin to flow."
More to come