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Unions pressure Labor MPs for more worker protections in trade deals

But the letter, seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, from SL Unions convenor Dylan Wight, warns federal Labor would be going against the party’s platform to protect the rights of workers, a gain the union movement secured at December’s national conference.


Central to the union demands are safeguards against waiving labour market testing, investor state dispute settlement provisions, work safety law and or provisions that limit the right of the Commonwealth to regulate in the interests of public welfare or in relation to safe products.

“Labor must demonstrate to the Australian community that we are the party that will protect working Australians and their families from far reaching agreements that damage local economies,” Mr Wight wrote.

“This has too often occurred from under regulated trade agreements that benefit the few.”

He told MPs if Labor was to be “the Party of working people and jobs”, the federal caucus must oppose trade agreements that failed to require skills assessments to be undertaken in Australia and don’t restrict such skills assessments for temporary visa holders.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has told unions he will push to protect workers rights in trade deals.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has told unions he will push to protect workers rights in trade deals. Credit:James Alcock

“Unless Labor can secure amendments to the proposed agreements which give expression to these important commitments to the Australian community, we ask that all Labor members of Parliament vote against legislation that will damage or undermine Australian workplace laws, access to employment opportunities and the economic welfare of our communities,” Mr Wight wrote.

“Victorian SL Unions, and their members, will be paying close attention to how these agreements play out in the coming weeks, and the efforts of those involved to put Australian workers first.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese held a meeting with union leaders and senior members of his team earlier this month to discuss their concerns over the new trade deals.

ACTU President Michele O’Neil said last week the agreements “trade away Australian jobs”.

“They put the interest of multinational companies ahead of local workers, at a time of record low wage growth and when regional unemployment is already at unacceptable levels,” Ms O’Neil said.

Victorian Senator Kim Carr said last week Labor would be defying its “supreme governing body” by supporting Indonesian free-trade deal.

“The Labor party’s platform is very clear on these issues and the principles outlined by the Labor party in the last Parliament were put there very consciously and deliberately when we were in opposition,” Senator Carr told Guardian Australia.

“There are very good reasons why the positions in the Labor party platform were put there and the deregulation of the labour market is of very deep concern within the Australian community.”

Fellow MPs Josh Wilson, who sits on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, has also raised concerns along with Victorian member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters.

During Bill Shorten’s leadership the opposition also faced demands from unions to seek amendments to the China FTA and 11-nation trans-Pacific partnership, and vowed to amend them if he won government.

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