Business / Economy

China-Australia FTA compromise proposed to avoid parliament stalemate

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-09-28 10:07

CANBERRA -- A former senior Australian government minister has proposed a compromise to the China- Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would force employers to consider local workers for positions before turning to cheaper overseas labor.

Craig Emerson, trade minister under the Gillard government from 2010 to 2013, has proposed an amendment to the nation's Migration Act that could satisfy both government and the Opposition stances on the deal, as the Labor Party has been hesitant to rubber-stamp the agreement.

Labor has even threatened to block the FTA in Australia's parliament, saying that it would force hardworking Australians out of jobs, but the government has steadily maintained that Australian workers would be protected under the Migration Act.

Emerson said the "simple solution" to the stalemate would force employers to test the local market to fill positions before turning to cheaper overseas workers.

The amendment would make labor market testing mandatory, while currently it is enforced at the discretion of the Immigration Department.

Emerson said despite government representatives saying labor market testing was readily enforced and would continue to be enforced, the change to the Migration Act would make labor market testing mandatory once the FTA comes into effect.

"Since the government claims labor market testing is already mandatory, this proposed amendment would simply give effect to stated government policy," Emerson said in a statement released late on Sunday.

"The change would cover all lower-skilled 457 visa categories associated with work agreements, not only those related to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement."

However current Trade Minister Andrew Robb said he was unlikely to make any changes to the Act, as it would go against the negotiations that both China and Australia had already agreed upon.

"To seek to impose new requirements through amendments to the Migration Act would be at odds with these commitments," Robb said.

A government review into the FTA and its conditions is expected to conclude next week, with findings to be delivered to parliament on Oct 12.

The government has previously envisaged the free trade agreement coming into effect before the end of 2015.

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