Revived Trans-Pacific trade deal undercuts Australian jobs market, unions say

ACTU says workers from Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam in 435 occupations can be hired without advertising to Australians

The revived Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will allow at least six countries to access temporary skills shortage work visas without first testing the Australian market, unions have said.

According to the unions’ peak body, the Australian government has confirmed in consultations that employers will be able to hire workers from Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam in 435 occupations without first advertising jobs to Australians.

The consultation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade appears to confirm for the first time that the text of the new TPP11, negotiated after Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, will lower Australian barriers to skilled migrants.

After Australia lobbied to keep the deal alive, 11 leading Pacific Rim nations agreed to the new trade pact in November, although details of the deal are still not public.

Australia will get reciprocal access to the labour markets of the six countries it has lowered barriers to, but the Australian Council of Trade Unions says the government was not able to quantify the benefit of those arrangements.

The ACTU president, Ged Kearney, said the deal would mean that migrant workers could be brought in as nurses, engineers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, tilers, mechanics and chefs.

“Clearly the only allegiance the Turnbull government values is to employers,” she said, accusing it of putting big business ahead of “the rights of workers and the national interest of Australia”.

“There has been no analysis of how this will affect local employment, nor have there been any safeguards proposed to protect these vulnerable workers.

“This agreement would be a disaster for Australia and we call on the Turnbull government to immediately cease negotiations until they have proved that the deal will not come at the cost of massively increased exploitation and unemployment.”

In April the government announced that from March 2018 the subclass 457 visa would be replaced by a temporary skills shortage visa.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said 457 visas should not be “passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians” and the new temporary skills shortage visas would require mandatory labour market testing “in the majority of cases”.

In November the shadow trade minister, Jason Clare, said that Australians “hate” jobs going to migrants “without first checking if there is an Australian who can do that job”.

“It also breaks a promise Turnbull made to the Australian people earlier this year.”

Clare said that trade agreements such as the TPP waiving the requirement for labour market testing “made a mockery” of Turnbull’s tough rhetoric on the temporary skills shortage visa.

“Turnbull should put Australian workers first and reinstate labour market testing in the TPP for those countries.”

Labor policy is that, if elected, it would conduct independent modelling of the costs and benefits of every new trade agreement before signing, including the effect on jobs.

The ACTU said the negotiations also confirmed that the new TPP11 agreement retains the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause allowing foreign corporations to sue the Australian government if they think the government has introduced or changed laws that hurt their commercial interests.