Trade Pact With India Could Lead to 'Exploitation' of Indian Workers, Australia's Top Union Warns
14:21 GMT 05.04.2022 (Updated: 10:43 GMT 19.07.2022)
© AFP 2023 / SAJJAD HUSSAINIndia’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal addresses a joint press conference after taking part in the virtual signing ceremony of the India-Australia economic cooperation and trade agreement with Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan, in New Delhi on April 2, 2022
© AFP 2023 / SAJJAD HUSSAIN
Canberra says that its interim trade pact with New Delhi would create annual benefits amounting to $14.8 billion for Australian businesses, besides scrapping tariffs on around 86 percent of imports to India. For India, nearly 96 percent of its goods and products are eligible for duty-free access to the Australian market under the deal.
The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) would leave Indian workers “highly-vulnerable” to exploitation at the hands of their employers, a leading trade union warned on Tuesday.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which comprises 46 affiliated unions in different industries and claims to represent nearly two million workers, said that the pact could “contribute further to a race to the bottom on workers’ rights, wages and conditions”.
The interim trade pact was signed by Australia’s trade and investment minister Dan Tehan and his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal in a virtual format on Saturday, 2 April. The online ceremony was also witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Aussie counterpart Scott Morrison.
Australia has also allowed an annual quota of 1,800 for Indian chefs and yoga teachers, who could stay in the country for four years with room for further visa extension.
The pact allows around a 1,000 Indians to visit Australia annually on ‘Work and Holiday program’. Such a visa facility had already been in place in Australia for travellers from other nations, such as China, Japan and Israel among others. However, the extension of visa after the first year is conditional upon applicants fulfilling the criteria of working for at least three months at a farm or in the hospitality industry among other low-paid roles in the countryside.
Further, New Delhi has also negotiated an extension of the post-study work visa to three years for its students who graduate from Australian institutions. This provision, however, applies for graduates of Science Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) or Information Technology (IT) fields.
“This is expected to contribute to both workforce requirements and to boost tourism to support our post-COVID recovery,” an Australian government release said.
However, the provisions facilitating Indian workers’ access to the Australian job market are the ones which Australian labour unions say could be to the detriment of Indian workers.
ACTU’s President Michele O’Neil has said that trade deals should support “permanent migration” of foreign labour rather than temporary one as envisaged under the pact.
“Instead, it has increasingly become a pool of exploitable labour for big business, which lobbies the government to remove protections,” she remarked.
The president of the ACTU, Michele O’Neil, responded to the deal by saying unions supported permanent migration. She said the visa system “should support workers with skills that we need moving to Australia long term”.
“The Morrison government continues to sign us up to trade agreements that facilitate the growth of temporary, employer-sponsored migration,” remarked O’Neil.
“These workers are highly vulnerable to exploitation because in many cases their ability to stay in this country is in the hands of their employer,” she added.
The labour rights activist also called for an inclusion of a “labour rights’ chapter” in the pact, which she said could help in raising living standards for migrant workers.
O’Neil further notes that “labour market testing” could be required before bringing in new Indian workers under the pact, which means that employers will have to prove that there are no local contenders for the roles which will potentially be taken up by Indians.
The reservations against the new pact came as Indian trade minister Piyush Goyal kicked off his three-day visit to Australia. A press release by the Indian government stated that Goyal would “take the ECTA to the people” in his engagements with Australian business leaders, students and members of the Indian diaspora during the visit.
The signing of the pact comes a month ahead of the federal election, with Prime Minister Morrison’s government touting the benefits of the deal to its constituents.
The Australian union movement also wields influence over the opposition Labor Party, which is yet to comment on the trade deal.