Globalisation has brought about a massive restructuring of economies and new international divisions of labour. The global expansion of trade in commodities was followed by growth in trade in services, an increase in foreign investment and the redistribution of components of production around the world. Transnational corporations in their pursuit of maximum profits have shifted operations to locations which offer such benefits as government subsidies, generous tax concessions, deregulated labour markets, and cheap non-unionised labour.
Immigration has provided capital with a ready source of cheap labour. This has been a long-standing practice in Australia. Employers are increasingly seeking to import workers on a temporary basis – often referred to “guest workers” – and known as temporary visa workers in Australia.
In Australia, where foreign workers have traditionally been accepted as migrants with permanent residency and the possibility of citizenship, employers have already brought in over 200,000 workers on temporary Section 456 and 457 visas. Paying lip service to concerns from the Australian community about displaced Australian workers the 456 visa has been closed and the 457 visa has been replaced with two new temporary workers visas. Workers arrive in Australia with false promises of a bright future but in reality, are used as modern-day slaves with little or no rights. A fact check done by the ABC in 2018 found it was impossible to calculate what percentage of the workforce held temporary visa which is very worrying and it is estimated by the ACTU to be as high as 11.99 percent based on data from a Federal Government submission to the 2016 Senate Inquiry into the Exploitation of Temporary Visa Workers.
These workers, often from non-English speaking backgrounds, work on lower rates in fear of deportation if they speak out or join a trade union. During downturns in the economy they lose their jobs and are sent home, often without their full wages or other entitlements. In some cases companies instead have sacked local workers ahead of temporary visa workers. An expert in the files Professor Hawthorne from the University of Melbourne told ABC Fact Check she was aware of certain areas of the workforce where qualified Australians were competing with the holders of Temporary Skills Shortage Visas.
TPP-11, now re-named the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP), was signed on 8 March 2018 in Santiago, Chile by the 11 countries still party to the agreement after the US withdrawal; Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. It is now in the process of ratification as each party passes through their Parliaments the implementing legislation needed for final sign off. The deal was signed by the 11 countries. Critical to Australia workers the agreement commits Australia to accepting unlimited numbers of temporary workers from Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam as contractual service providers in a wide range of professional, technical and skilled trades occupations, without labour market testing to establish whether there are local workers available. Bad for workers’ rights: the labour rights chapter is not fully enforceable in the same way as the rest of the agreement. These temporary workers retain all the vulnerabilities seen with other temporary workers. They will be tied to one employer making them vulnerable to exploitation as they will face deportation if they lose their job. This is inconsistent with the government position of abolishing visa 457.
Another agreement currently being negotiated in secret, the Trade in Services Agreement, TISA includes rules for licensing, qualifications and service standards not to be “burdensome” and could prevent future improvements in staffing and qualifications in industries like child care and aged care.
TiSA also has provisions to increase numbers of temporary overseas as “contractual service providers” again without testing if local workers are available. TISA seeks to redefine who is a worker placing migrant workers under a controversial Mode 4 status defining them as “independent service suppliers” and thus not considered as employees removing rights to protections such as being able to join a union and be covered by ILO conventions.
The export of labour sees workers from Bangladesh travelling to India and Dubai; Filipinos all over the world; East Europeans across other EU countries, Chinese workers into Singapore, Australia and Europe; Irish and Greek workers to Australia, Canada, the US and other parts of Europe. The transportation of workers has become a lucrative business in itself.
Temporary visa workers are used to break solidarity, pit worker against worker in a race to the bottom. It creates fear and divisions, fosters racism and xenophobia, as workers who lose their jobs or cannot find work in one country see the foreign workers being brought in as “taking their jobs”. Temporary visa workers are not the enemy of the working class in Australia. They are part of the international working class and must be welcomed.
The CPA campaigns for:
- Workers to organise to ensure visa workers are paid the same wage rates and enjoy the same working conditions and other entitlements as local workers.
- All workers to join their unions and join the struggle for the wages and working conditions of all workers, then these corporations cannot succeed in their agenda.
- An end to all forms of racial discrimination.
- All temporary visa workers given permanent residency and the possibility of citizenship.
- No international agreement should be permitted to remove the responsibility of a country to protect employees and workers working in its jurisdiction.