A new free trade agreement with Malaysia is a missed opportunity to advance decent and secure jobs and workers’ rights in our region.

Unions have expressed concern that although the new agreement will allow better access for Australian exports to one of Asia’s largest economies, there is no enforceable avenue to ensure workers’ rights are protected and promoted.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement did not include a chapter on labour rights, which meant there was no framework for action in the event of violation of such rights.

“A signed international trade agreement must include an enforceable chapter on workers’ rights and we are disappointed it was left out,” Ms Kearney said.

“Detailed agreement on workers’ rights is not only essential to provide a minimum floor but also to ensure the benefits of trade are fairly shared.

“We know that workers benefit when they have a right to organise and to collectively bargain, but this new trade agreement does not stipulate workers must have access to this.

“Such an outcome leaves labour relations with respect to trade between the two countries unregulated and this is inconsistent with the ALP Platform.”

The Platform, endorsed at last year’s national conference, clearly states:

“…Labor supports and promotes the incorporation of core labour standards, as a minimum, in all international trade agreements. Labor will outlaw the importation into Australia of goods or services produced with forced labour and the worst forms of child labour or prison labour.”

Last week, the ACTU Congress endorsed a policy which calls for trade agreements to contain a specific labour rights chapter that provides for improved workers’ conditions by requiring signatories to adopt and effectively enforce fundamental labour and human rights principles.

Ms Kearney said unions welcomed some other elements of the agreement, including the elimination of all tariffs on large cars and virtually all tariffs on automotive parts imported into Malaysia from day one, with tariffs on small cars to be eliminated by 2016.

Tariffs will also be eliminated on processed foods, plastics, chemicals and a range of manufactured products. And tariffs on Australian iron and steel will be progressively eliminated by 2020.

“These actions will support jobs in the Australian manufacturing sector, which is under pressure from the high dollar,” Ms Kearney said.