Union members protest in Gladstone over free trade
A SMALL Gladstone protest by union representatives has set up outside the office of Federal MP for Flynn Ken O'Dowd, directly opposite a hotel where delegates are attending a North Asian Free Trade Agreement Seminar being attended by Small Business Minister Bruce Billson.
Bearing colourful placards, the Central Queensland organiser of the AMWU Phil Golby and ETU organiser Craig Giddins called on Mr O'Dowd to look after Gladstone workers first.
The men described the seminar as "clandestine", saying it was being done at the future expense of Queensland and Australian workers.
Mr Golby and Mr Giddins said such agreements would exploit the livelihoods of overseas workers, brought in with poor conditions and paid cheap wages at the expense of our workers.
"The Trans Pacific Partnership is all secret squirrels business being done behind closed doors with clandestine meetings to show employers how to exploit it, and not put out publicly," Mr Giddins said.
"If employers are able to easily bring in foreign workers then things like work, health and safety conditions will go down the toilet."
Mr Golby said free trade agreements like the one being discussed today in Gladstone made Australian workers vulnerable.
He said one side effect that had to be seriously considered was that businesses could bring in a foreign workforce, because the Federal Government had watered down some labour laws.
"If you stop our workers from earning a real wage, as Minister Joe Hockey said they will not be able to buy real houses or put money away for their superannuation," Mr Golby said.
Both union representatives said that at a time when unemployment was increasing with ongoing job losses across industry in Central Queensland, the government's representatives had to do what was necessary to protect workers jobs and their conditions.
Australia and China last month signed a free trade agreement following a decade of negotiations.
Mr O'Dowd has dismissed claims that the agreement will hurt local jobs as "union propaganda".
As far as Gladstone was concerned, Mr Giddins said that potentially what the agreement meant was that companies would be able to bring in foreign labour to complete projects.
"As we've seen with the LNG plants that were built in module form overseas, under this agreement they'll be able to bring in foreign labour to complete the construction of those modules.
"We'll end up with Australian supervisors with a foreign workforce.
"It just means we're going to have a lot of people who are highly skilled workers who won't be able to pick up work around the place."