Business / Economy

Australia's Opposition blasted by unions after supporting China FTA deal

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-10-22 10:51

CANBERRA - Division within the broader Australian Labor movement revealed itself on Thursday, following Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's announcement that Labor would be backing the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Labor and Shorten, traditionally backed by unions to fight for Australian workers and their rights, agreed to terms with the government on Wednesday in a move that will allow the FTA to go ahead in Australia.

Under the deal, all major works will require Australian workers to be given first rights at employment, while any workers coming in on a temporary work visa will have to be licensed to Australian standards within 90 days of arriving.

But on Thursday, a number of trade union heads expressed anger at the decision, with local media reporting that more than 20 town hall meetings have been scheduled over the next two weeks to publicly condemn the decision.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has led an unrelenting television, radio and print campaign against the deal, saying that Australian workers will be disregarded in favor of cheaper, Chinese workers.

After the announcement, Electrical Trade Union national secretary Allen Hicks said, although it initially showed great fight for the Australian worker, Labor's negotiations were "inadequate," arguing "the outcome does not provide meaningful protections for Australian workers."

"We are left with little option but to condemn both sides of politics for what has been done today," Hicks told News Corp on Thursday.

Meanwhile Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney said a number of town hall meetings condemning the deal would be going ahead as a result of the agreement, despite the political bipartisanship.

"While we appreciate the efforts of Penny Wong and Bill Shorten to fix a bad deal, the proposed changes simply do not go far enough," Kearney said.

However former ACTU spokesman Greg Combet said Labor successfully fought for better rights for Australian workers, praising the agreement.

"The deal achieved by the Labor Party to buttress the China-Australia free trade agreement to improve protections for workers is an important breakthrough," he said in a statement.

The FTA, after changes to Australia's Migration Act are enacted, is expected to come into force before the end of the year, with Trade Minister Andrew Robb saying on Wednesday that the first round of trade tariffs would be removed before Jan 1, 2016.

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