Details Faint on Foreign Workers

Chinese-owned companies operating in Australia will be ­required to demonstrate an “ongoing labour need” before bringing in foreign workers, but the Abbott government has refused to provide key details of how its new “streamlined’’ system will work.

The Australian, by Ewin Hannan, 19 November 2014

Under attack from Labor and unions yesterday, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the free-trade agreement with China would ­replicate provisions made under Labor that “reserved the right to require labour market testing for appropriate occupations and skill levels’’.

However, under the free-trade deal, Chinese workers would gain entry through a new mechanism called an investment facilitation arrangement.

The government said the IFAs would operate on a similar basis to enterprise ­migration agreements yet do not require labour market testing. In response to questions yesterday, Mr Robb’s office provided a statement, which said “any skilled Chinese employee hired by a contractor under the IFA would still come to Australia under the existing 457 visa system’’.

“Under that system, employers will be expected to demonstrate an ongoing labour market need before being able to sponsor overseas workers. Overseas workers must continue to be paid Australian market salary rates,’’ it said.

“IFAs will operate within the framework of Australia’s existing 457 visa system and will not allow Australian employment laws or conditions to be undermined.

“Similar to existing labour agreements, the range of flexi­bilities under an IFA will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis for each project.”

Questioned on the detail yesterday, Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the agreement would “streamline’’ the process for Chinese companies being able to bring in foreign workers on 457 visas for projects worth more than $150 million. But he said “the nuts and bolts’’ and the “details” would be in the final deal.

“The full details of that will be negotiated in due course and put into the diplomatic language or the language of these free-trade agreements,’’ he said. Asked if there would be more Chinese workers in Australia as a result of the agreement, he said: “One never knows the answer to that.”

ACTU president Ged Kearney said: “Despite the government saying labour market testing will apply, their own fact sheet says rules for these new agreements will be based on enterprise ­migration agreements, which do not require labour market testing.”

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