Unions have welcomed the announcement that an incoming Labor government would increase key community protections in current and future international trade agreements.
The union movement has in recent times been in the forefront of opposition to aspects of such “free” trade agreements as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) which it believes compromise national sovereignty and potentially undermine workers’ rights and conditions.
In particular it has campaigned against the removal from such agreements of labour market testing, which requires employers to check whether local workers are available before importing workers from overseas. Labor has said it will reintroduce these requirements.
“Labor’s pledge to restore labour market testing requirements protects Australian jobs and helps prevent exploitation of migrant workers, while releasing drafts of proposed agreements for public scrutiny is a practical and welcome move towards transparency and accountability,” ACTU President Ged Kearney said.
Unions have also opposed clauses in trade agreements that give foreign investors the right to bypass Australian courts and sue Australian governments in international tribunals.
Such clauses can be used by large multinationals to undermine democratically determined policies in areas like health, education and environmental protection if the companies can successfully argue that their businesses have been harmed by such policies.
Labor will not agree to include such clauses in future agreements and will review current ones such as the TPP which has yet to be signed off on by the Australian parliament.
Labor’s policy stops short, though, of saying whether it will oppose the TPP, whether in government or opposition. Community organisations are calling for a clear stand on this issue.
Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said that she will not support the TPP and Labor should do the same. The New Zealand Labour Party has also pledged to oppose it.
“The test of policies is in their implementation. We are calling on the ALP to take a stand on the TPP before the election. If the ALP wins government, we ask them to commit to follow Hillary Clinton’s example,” Dr. Ranald said.