Unions threaten Labor over FTA treachery

Labor has attracted scorn from union leaders after the party’s caucus voted to support the federal government’s proposed free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru. Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining & Energy Union national secretary Michael O’Connor says the decision will cause ongoing tensions between sections of the union movement and Labor. From The Australian:

“This argument is not over by the decision,’’ Mr O’Connor told The Australian. “This is going to be an ongoing issue of conflict ­between sections of the trade union movement and the parliamentary party going forward.

“This issue is an iconic issue for many unions, and I think it’s going to be a very problematic relationship going forward as a consequence of this. How that manifests itself I am not too sure but certainly this is not a good start to this political cycle by them making this decision. The parliamentary party will have to wear the fallout”…

There are 1000 Indonesians in Australia on working holiday visas but under the FTA that number is expected to increase to about 4000 workers in the first year and 5000 after the sixth year…

Ms O’Neil said the ALP had “made a mistake that will not be forgotten by Australian workers”…

“I think the position the party is taking on free trade is sending a very bad signal to Australian workers about where it stands on issues like job security,’’ he said.

“It also sends a very bad signal to the trade union movement about trying to work together to have common positions that are about job security for people.”

The ACTU claims that Labor has reneged on a deal made with the unions to protect Australian workers in FTAs:

Back in December 2018 the AMIEU and other Unions made a deal with the Labor Party that the conditions of Australian workers would be protected in all future trade agreements.

Labor was so embarrassed when we threatened to picket a Bill Shorten fundraising event they agreed to introduce better and fairer trade agreement legislation.

We expect Labor to honour the deal struck with the Union movement, but already they are showing signs of flopping. Labor Parliamentarians MUST OPPOSE the Liberal Government’s new free trade agreements with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru.

These new trade agreements will increase the number of temporary visa workers in Australia, of which there are already 1.4 million. Visa workers are taken advantage of by multinational corporations and used to erode the wages and conditions of everyone.

Not only have these free trade agreements not been independently assessed, they do not require labour market testing and even allow multinationals to sue the Australian government if they aren’t making enough money.

The AMIEU has written to Federal Labor, Greens and Independent Parliamentarians to oppose the proposed free trade agreements. We urge these Parliamentarians to closely examine the new trade agreements to see just how they will disadvantage Australian workers.

Federal Labor Parliamentarians, if you aren’t going to fight for the workers you claim to represent, you aren’t fit for your job.

As I said yesterday, the “Labor” Party no longer supports the working class, but rather inner-city social justice warriors and virtue signallers. They care more about identity politics than real issues that impact the working class.

That said, the union movement is not adequately representing its working-class base either. While it whinges about FTAs, it remains a wholehearted supporter of Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy, even signing a ‘Big Australia’ immigration compact with employer groups last year.

This comes despite mass immigration being a key driver of inequality, since it raises the wealth of capitalists while driving down the wages of ordinary workers, and forces workers to live in smaller and more expensive housing.

Rather than focussing on tiny FTAs, 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.

Unconventional Economist

Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. Leith is an economist and has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.

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