China free trade: Labor amendments criticised by business, unions

Labor’s proposed changes to the Migration Act will harm businesses seeking to access overseas skills to fill the gaps in their domestic workforce, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) says.

As the ABC reports, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten yesterday proposed amendments to Australia's 457 skilled migration program on the grounds that the China free trade agreement (ChAFTA) will make it possible for Chinese companies to bring foreign workers into Australia for projects worth more than $150 million, without checking if local workers could do the work.

The amendments would mean Chinese companies would have to advertise jobs locally and also increase the base rate of pay for workers on 457 visas.

The proposal was not welcomed by the ACCI.

"It is clear now that the unions are using ChAFTA as a vehicle to drive change to skilled migration programme, and shows their willingness to sacrifice the economic benefit of the Free Trade Agreement to pursue their objectives," ACCI Director of Employment, Education and Training, Jenny Lambert, said in a statement.

Business representatives weren’t the only ones unhappy with Labor’s position. As the ABC reports, ACTU president Ged Kearney said more amendments are needed.

"There are still major gaps for us with the China free trade agreement (FTA) and we don't think these amendments to the migration bill will fix all of the problems," she said.

"So the changes to the Migration Act do not cover all our concerns."