ETU sparks trade debate


FRANKSTON and Mornington residents have been receiving automated phone calls from an electrician in the past week but the sparky hasn’t been getting in touch about a home electrical wiring job.

The call is part of a campaign by the Electrical Trades Union to “stop the China Free Trade Agreement” amid union fears electricians’ jobs are at risk.

A pre-recorded message urges recipients to contact federal Dunkley Liberal MP Bruce Billson to make any concerns about the free trade agreement known to the Abbott government’s Small Business Minister.

ETU state secretary Troy Gray said the “robo-calls” to Dunkley electorate voters are part of a newly launched campaign aimed at highlighting “a secret trade deal” with China, according to the union.

“There are a lot of amendments that have been put into this one that haven’t previously been in free trade agreements and we need to have serious public debate about that so we’ll be targeting a number of seats, not just marginal seats, to get the issue out there,” Mr Gray said.

“By putting these robo-calls out there it triggers the debate and people ask the question.”

Mr Gray said free trade agreements are notoriously “a little bit cloak and dagger” and the detail is not usually released until they are signed. He says the ETU wants laws being passed in federal Parliament to implement the China Free Trade Agreement to be stopped.

Chief among the union’s concerns is a clause in a memorandum of understanding that stipulates China will be able to bring in tradespeople to work on any project in Australia worth over $150 million with as little as a 15 per cent Chinese stake in the project.

Mr Gray said labour testing clauses ensuring a satisfactory minimum standard for tradespeople, including electricians, had also been removed under the proposed terms of the China Free Trade Agreement.

“We don’t have an issue with immigration, we think it’s fantastic but previously in a number of trades if you come to the country you need to be assessed to the current standards and if you don’t meet that then you do some more exams for more qualifications,” he said.

“This current FTA removes that requirement. You’ll notice Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s comment about it is ‘oh, they’ll still be assessed’ but there is absolutely no requirement and it’s been deliberately removed.”

Mr Billson hit back at the union’s claims about the agreement saying the ETU is “scaremongering”.

“I have been made aware of the pre-recorded messages. The robotic messages are part of the Electrical Trade Union’s scare campaign which is irresponsible and filled with inaccuracies.

“The historic Free Trade Agreement with China will help grow jobs and the economy. It will open the door to millions of potential new customers for our businesses – which by working hard to win these customers, will grow our economy and create more jobs.”

The Small Business Minister said the FTA will not undermine Australian employment laws and conditions and “will not allow unrestricted access to the Australian labour market by Chinese workers”.

Mr Billson denied that the required skill levels for Chinese visa applicants will change as a result of the FTA.

Mr Gray said the ETU will ramp up its campaign against the China FTA via television and print advertisements and more robo-calls.

Trade unions plan to rally outside the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties Hearing in Melbourne on Friday 28 August.

First published in the Mornington News – 18 August 2015


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