Monday, January 30, 2017

Clashing claims over jobs and qualifications put Government triumph at risk

Supplied Editorial Union members rally against conditions of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement in Darwin. Pho
MALCOLM FARR news.com.au
IT IS the biggest trophy in the collection of Trade Minister Andrew Robb but the deal with economic giant China also threatens to become his biggest embarrassment.
The Government is strongly insisting the China free trade agreement signed June 17 will produce more jobs for Australians and will not grant easier access to significant numbers of foreign workers with lower qualifications on lower pay.
But the Labor Opposition and trades unions are not convinced, and have not been put off by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s charge they are being racist and want the return of the White Australia policy.
China’s concerns about Australian criticism of the deal will be discussed this week when Mr Robb leads a business delegation to Beijing. As he packed today he tweeted: “It (the FTA) will help drive jobs & growth for Australia.”
However, Labor’s shadow trade minister Penny Wong is among those demanding the Government issue stronger assurances to Australians: “We’ve got a situation where legitimate questions have been asked about this agreement. Instead of dealing with them we have ministers in this Government, including the Prime Minister, simply calling people racist for raising these issues.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking with Mr Ye Canjiang, Chairman of the Board and General Manager for the Guangzhou Jiangnan (centre) and his interpreter (left). The Prime Minister has signed a MOU with China as part of the free trade agreement. Picture: Ben Macmahon / AAP Source: AAP
Here are some of the clashing claims about the trade agreement on the two most contentious matters
WILL THE BASIC SKILL LEVEL OF IMMIGRANT WORKERS BE LOWERED?
(The deal) does not change the required skill levels for Chinese visa applicants,” says a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
However, a June 17 letter from Mr Robb to Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng refers to an “understanding” there would be a reduction in “the number of occupations currently subject to mandatory skills assessment for Chinese applicants for Australian Temporary Work (Skilled) visas.”
These are 457 visas and the removal of mandatory skills assessments would include qualifications for automotive, specialist class and general electricians, cabinet-makers, carpenters and joiners, diesel motor mechanics, general motor mechanics, and motorcycle mechanics.
There is no suggestion approved Chinese companies would want to bring in dud workers, but there appears to be a no resolute defence of Australian qualifications in the agreement.
WILL CHINESE INVESTMENTS BE IN AREAS OF NEED?
Andrew Robb said: “If a company is approved for an IFA (Investment Facilitation Arrangement) for one of those projects, there are significant conditions that must be satisfied before a single overseas worker can be recruited, that includes that employers must demonstrate a labour market need, prove that Australians have been given first opportunity through labour market testing, with evidence of significant recruiting efforts.”
The Department of Immigration has backed his claims. “Employers must show that there is demonstrated labour market need, Australians have been given the first opportunity through evidence of domestic recruitment activity, in other words labour market testing, and there are no suitably qualified Australians”.
Penny Wong: “That might be what he says Government policy is, what the discretion or the whim of the minister of the day may or may not include. But he should be clear with Australians, none of that is in the agreement and that only applies to the Investment Facilitation Agreement.”
The Memorandum of Understanding on IFAs has no specific reference to a labour market need or Australians getting first crack at any jobs.
The MOU says there would be negotiations between a Chinese company and the Department of Immigration on occupations covered by a project agreement, English proficiency of workers, qualifications and experience, “calculations of the terms and conditions” of foreign workers.