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FTA rush ignores workers’ rights

News.Com.Au, Australia

FTA rush ignores workers’ rights

19 April 2005

(AAP) WORKERS’ rights were being ignored in the rush to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with China, a leading group of opponents said today.

The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) and Public Interest Advocacy Group said the proposed deal would come at the expense of workers’ health and rights.

Australia and China last night signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), paving the way for the start of negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA).

But trade justice campaigner with AFTINET, Jemma Bailey, said the whole deal seemed to ignore major worker rights issues.

"(We) have serious concerns about the lack of workers rights and environmental protections in China," she said in a statement.

"Transnational companies subcontract work to local firms in China’s special export processing zones and accept the lowest bids.

"Workers often have to work 12 and 16 hours a day, seven days a week to complete contracts without proper payment.

"Studies show that real wages have actually fallen, health and safety is often appalling, environmental pollution is rife and workers do not have effective rights to bargain for improved conditions.

"FTAs without workers’ rights or environmental protections mean a global race to the bottom."

Ms Bailey said the Australian government had also treated voters at home poorly with its failure to release the feasibility study into the proposed FTA.

"The government has not allowed any opportunity for public scrutiny of the feasibility study on the impacts of the China FTA before formally announcing negotiations," he said.

"This `decisions first, evidence later’ approach is unacceptable in a democracy."

The feasibility study is to be released publicly this afternoon.