As the leaders of the UK and Australia laud the announcement of the new free trade between the two nations – the first such agreement the UK has negotiated from scratch since it left the EU – the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has voiced serious concerns over the ‘secrecy’ surrounding the deal and the lack of detail.
The country’s peak union body says it has been negotiated in secret for almost a year and the legal text of the agreement has still not been released, with the only available detail coming from the two Prime Ministers, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.
According to the ACTU, there is no publicly available detail on what protections there will be against the exploitation of workers through the visa system, and no guarantee the agreement will create good jobs in each country as there has been no independent economic modelling.
Unlike the UK, Australia has no independent approval process for trade agreements with other nations.
Fears of exploitation of ‘vulnerable’ ASEAN workers
“It also appears that the Morrison Government has done a deal with big agricultural employers to replace labour from the working holiday visa program with even more access to vulnerable workers from ASEAN countries,” the union body said.
“Workers continue to be kept in the dark, with trade unions not consulted. But there is mounting evidence that the UK will remove labour market testing, which would allow Australian employers to fill vacancies through visa programs without first determining whether there are local workers who could do the job.
“Documents from the UK’s Department of International Trade state ‘Aussie firms will no longer have to prioritise hiring Australian nationals first’.”
The ACTU has now called on the Australian Government to release the text of the Agreement before it is signed. This would enable “a democratic process” with public scrutiny and independent assessment of its costs and benefits.
No agreement to be signed without labour market testing
“It is critical that Prime Minister Morrison does not sign an agreement without labour market testing, [as] this would allow employers unrestricted access to easily exploited temporary migrant workers and undermine the local labour market by driving down wages and conditions,” ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, stated.
In announcing the free trade agreement, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the deal would mean British products such as cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics would be cheaper to sell to Australia. It will also see UK citizens under 35 able to travel and work in Australia more freely.
For Australia the deal will, among other things, eliminate tariffs on exports such as wine, swimwear and confectionery imported into Great Britain.
The UK is Australia’s eighth-largest trading partner, while Australia is Britain’s 20th-largest trading partner.