The ACTU welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiry into the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (hereafter, UK FTA).
The ACTU supports fair trade as a vehicle for economic growth, job creation, tackling inequality and raising living standards. The most important objective of trade policy should be to deliver benefits to workers, their communities and the economy by increasing opportunities for local businesses, creating quality local jobs, and protecting public services. We have longstanding concerns, however, about the Australian Government’s agenda on trade which places the needs of business before the needs of workers, jeopardising local jobs, undermining working conditions, and compromising the ability of current and future Australian Governments to regulate in the public interest.
The ACTU and our counterpart, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK, released a joint statement1 in 2020 as negotiations for the UK FTA commenced, outlining the expectations of workers in both countries about the content of a free trade agreement. These expectations included transparent negotiations and consultation with unions; independent economic modelling to demonstrate that the agreement will create quality jobs in each country; protection of public services and the ability of Governments to regulate services in the public interest; and ensuring workers’ rights are respected. Unfortunately, the final deal fails on all of these points. The UK FTA also fails to take into account the lessons of the pandemic regarding the overdependency on global supply chains, lack of local manufacturing capacity, and rules which give pharmaceutical companies a monopoly on medicines, delaying access to cheap generic medicines. There has been no independent assessment of the economic, social, health, gender, regulatory and environmental impact of the agreement, and we are concerned that this agreement will have detrimental impacts on workers in both countries.
Australian unions have a number of concerns with elements of the UK FTA, but this submission will focus on the following key issues:
• Lack of consultation with unions
• Trade in services
• Temporary workers
• Digital trade
• Government Procurement
• Labour rights