The Government’s recent decision to change the assessment criteria for Chinese workers in 10 different fields has been dubbed an “absolute disgrace” by the Electrician’s Trade Union (ETU).
The new assessment forms a section of the new free trade agreement (FTA) with China, which, according to the Union, runs the risk of creating “significant workplace dangers, not only just for electricians, but all those people who use electricity.”
The chief executive officer of the Fire Protection Association (FPA), Scott Williams, has also stated that his organisation are very concerned by the loss of these vital assessment criteria, and worry that cheap Chinese labour, flooded with unqualified workers, could lead to serious impacts for the safety of Australians.
Mr. Williams has stated that if “there is an attempt to erode, dilute, or certainly dumb down the skills, we can only see that leading to what will be increased outcomes in regard to fire events in Australia.”
Arguably, the use of such labour is detrimental not just to the public in Australia, but also increases the chances that vulnerable workers will be exploited and more open to unregulated trafficking.
On the other hand, the ETU’s statement has possibly overlooked other measures that the Government uses to assess the skill level and training undertaken by workers – indeed, the Government has responded to highlight the fact that workers will still have to show evidence of skills and training before being granted a visa.
They emphasise: “The FTA does not, I repeat does not, change the skills and experience requirement that needs to be met by a skilled worker applying for a visa to work in Australia.”
Safety should never be a trade off for reduced cost, however, provided all the appropriate measures are taken to ensure the qualifications of electricians making use of these visas are to the standard required in Australia, the quality of the work and the safety of consumers and workers alike would be maintained.
There is heated debate surrounding this decision but the key lies in the details of the regulations being altered. It is easy to over-react in situations such as these and the media can play a powerful role in sensationalising the ramifications of decisions such as is this or they can choose to provide a rational, objective and informative view.
So the question remains will this decision have a positive impact on the industry as a whole or is it simply an effort to boost the economy in order to gain votes for the current government at the next election?
The answer is not as simple as not giving jobs to underpaid foreign workers, nor is this a reason to panic about workers taking Australian jobs – but rather a time to critically analyse the value of removing these regulations and assess whether or not such an action could prove harmful both to Australians and legitimate foreign workers alike.