The ACTU and the union movement internationally are extremely wary of purportedly “free trade” agreements that can have the effect of undercutting domestic employment norms and standards with little capacity to challenge them in readily accessible Courts and Tribunals. The Free Trade Agreements with China and South Korea have attracted controversy in this regard, particularly when they are used in tandem with loosening of visa arrangements.25 .
Furthermore, free trade agreements have also come under scrutiny for paying scant if any regard to Labour standards, while paying significant attention to the removal of national tariffs and the protection of intellectual property rights. This is a skewed position that will do little to reduce poverty or increase safety at work. These latter outcomes are far more important to people working or not than mere “Free Trade”. At the other end of the spectrum the ability of Australian business to “close up here and to set up over there” off shore, continues to be permitted without significant Government intervention. Expansive modifications to the explicit limitations to the geographical application of the FW Act26 would be a sensible area of concentrated reform for this Inquiry to recommend in order that Australia’s employment legislation keeps pace with the increasing scale and forces of globalisation. At the very least, the risk that recently completed free trade agreements with China and Korea may cut across the international labour standard regime should move the PC to recommend the Australian Government commission an independent review to examine the impact of Free Trade Agreements on Australian labour standards.