The union movement claimed that the trade deals breach Labor’s national policy platform, which outlawed deals with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses and mandated labour market testing.
“This is bad for local workers, will worsen the wage crisis and increase the exploitation for visa workers”, ACTU president Michele O’Neil said at the time.
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However, Labor leader Anthony Albanese hit back, calling on unions to consider the ‘jobs bonanza’ that could flow from the deals.
Fast forward to now, and the union movement is pressuring Labor to prevent MPs from voting for free trade deals that it has not negotiated:
[The] motion backed by the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union aimed at binding the parliamentary party to vote against the enabling legislation of free trade agreements that it has not negotiated.
The union-backed position comes amid concern that Labor has voted for free trade agreements while in opposition that are at odds with its national platform, which dictates a range of restrictions on the content of free trade agreements it would agree to if in government…
[Unions] believe the agreements routinely undercut wages and conditions of their members…
The current platform says that Labor “in government will not enter into and will prohibit through legislation trade arrangements that undermine the Australian government’s capacity to govern in the interest of all Australians”.
MB has long derided Australia’s ‘free trade agreements’ (FTAs) for their complexity and deleterious efficiency impacts, their anti-competitive measures around intellectual property, as well as some FTAs containing clauses enabling trading partners to sue sovereign governments (called Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS).
Surveys have also shown that FTAs are mostly useless in a commercial sense for Australian small-to-medium sized businesses, primarily because of their immense complexity, their lack of consistency, and the high administration burden attached to meeting FTA requirements.
The Productivity Commission has also been scathing of Australia’s FTAs, claiming that trade negotiations have been “characterised by a lack of transparent and robust analysis, a vacuum consequently filled at times by misleading claims”, and has called on the “final text of an agreement to be rigorously analysed before signing”.
At a minimum, the union movement should demand that Labor require an independent assessment from the Productivity Commission before voting in favour of future free trade deals.