Unions to fight wage-crushing Indonesian FTA

By Leith van Onselen

Last week MB warned that the soon to be signed Australia-Indonesian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would permit  “a few thousand” more Indonesians working rights, leading to more temporary migrant rorting, more low cost labour for business, and thereby further undermining Australian wages and working conditions.

Thankfully, Australia’s union movement seems to have caught on, and has threatened to scuttle the deal. From The Australian:

Australian unions yesterday stepped up their opposition to the deal as it currently stands and warned they would lobby a future Labor government to renegotiate the terms before it is ratified by parliament. “We are deeply concerned that they (the government) have done yet another dodgy deal that lets corporations hire temporary-visa holders in unlimited numbers instead of hiring and training ­locally,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Paul Bastian said there was “no substantive evidence” the deal would benefit Australian workers.

“Since 2016, we have been raising concerns about aspects of this agreement … about labour mobility provisions which could see Indonesian workers exposed to exploitation in Australia.”

The AMWU also opposes dispute-settlement provisions that allow foreign investors to seek international arbitration against governments in investment disputes, but which he said “undermine our national sovereignty”. Mr Bastian also criticised the timing of the signing, given imminent elections in both countries. Labor’s new trade policy demands all trade deals include stepped up “market-testing” of the local workforce before jobs are opened to foreign labour.

Good to see. But one wonders why the union movement still supports Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy, given it is one of the drivers of Australia’s wages crush.

Migrant workers are way over-represented in cases of wage theft. Moreover, the ‘skilled’ immigration system has been systemically rorted in order to lower labour costs for employers by crushing wages and abrogating their responsibility for training, while also feeding the owners of capital more consumers.

Unions need to push for root-and-branch immigration reform. This should start with dramatically lowering the overall permanent migrant intake, as well as setting a wage floor for ‘skilled’ migrants at the 80th to 90th percentile of earnings, thus ensuring the scheme is used sparingly by employers on only the highest skilled migrants, not as a general labour market tool for accessing cheap foreign labour and eliminating the need for training.

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  1. I was shopping at my local Woolies on the weekend, and I walked past a couple of Indian looking blokes who were talking to each other in a foreign language. One of them was wearing a turban, so I presume he was a Sikh. They both looked like they were in their thirties.

    Now, I like Sikhs. I soldiered with a couple of them, and they were bloody great. One of my best mates is a Sikh, and he’s a renowned genetic engineer who has made a great contribution to the scientific base of this country. The more people like him we have here, the better off we all are. Some immigration is great for the country.

    But why the bloody hell are we importing middle aged men to stack shelves at Woolies? Do they have rare shelf stacking skills that the locals don’t have? I don’t think so. It’s absurd and stupid.

    And are all these incoming Indonesians going to be brain surgeons and rocket scientists? Again, I don’t think so.

    This is madness, and if the unions can hit this idiotic idea on the head with a hammer and kill it, well, more power to them.

  2. Chris Bowen was a vocal supporter of the Indonesia FTA, just like all the others. ALP has betrayed its roots repeatedly on this issue.

  3. My money’s on the rort continuing. As the pressure on profits continues so the pressure from business for cheaper labor will too.

    The other key expense for business is lease rates for commercial premises — this is due a material downward adjustment. Only a matter of time now.

    • The only problem is these dynamics have about run their course. Look at the size of an Australian supermarket relative to the population (area) it serves.
      Some stores are verging on Zimbabwe-esk appearance. You can hardly downsize the footprint to run it out of a mini-mart.

      I think the stone can only be bled so much.

      • The big boys get preferential rates as the have the scale to negotiate such and they are often anchor tenants in a complex.

        I’m thinking more the small to medium retail units. Anecdotally, near me there are two small-ish retail units that have been vacant for more than 6 months. The owners of the properties are adamant that they want (need?) a certain rate — rates that potential tenants are not willing to pay right now. One of these units is asking $7k pm, whereas I know a restauranteur 100m down the road who is paying $2,200 pm for a similar sized unit. The mentality seems to be that ‘patience’ is required to achieve the rents you want.

        Economic reality is going to descend on these mofos in due course.

  4. > But one wonders why the union movement still supports Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy, given it is one of the drivers of Australia’s wages crush.

    They don’t come here to become tradies, or transport workers – who also benefit from building the things they need.
    There goes the most militant of the unions.

  5. “Good to see. But one wonders why the union movement still supports Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy, given it is one of the drivers of Australia’s wages crush.”

    This is the key question Union people. Why?

    • DominicMEMBER

      ‘myne’ alludes to answer above:

      Big Australia exists to deliver customers to Retail, to the Building industry, to the Banks and to Business in general — and many of these industries support unionised jobs.

      In other words, it is a ponzi scheme. Is it any wonder that productivity is in the dustbin when there is little incentive for Strayan businesses to improve productivity: all the while that new customers are being spoon-fed to them there is no incentive to run more efficiently. However, years of inaction on this front are finally catching up to them and profits are falling, meaning that productivity improvements are all that can save the bottom line.

      Unemployment …. tick, tock …

  6. robert2013MEMBER

    The union movement no longer represents ordinary working people anymore and it hasn’t for some time. The main union constituencies are certain trades and public servants. Unions serve people in long term relationships with employers, not casual or contract workers. Unfortunately, ordinary people tend only to get together to create a new order only when they are starting to go hungry, and that’s when they’re all of the same race and culture. Examples include the birth of the union movement in the 19th century, and the overthrow of Suharto in the aftermaths of the Asian financial crisis. God only knows how or if it’s going to work in a multicultural society. It’s new territory. However, there’s enough loathing among Australians these days to wonder whether we’d ever organise to stop this even if we all shared the same race and culture. What does an inner city university educated barista have in common with your average “bogan” ?