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Listen to labour on China FTA, union tells govt

Listen to labour on China FTA, union tells govt

New Zealand’s largest union is again calling for the Government to put labour issues at the forefront of free-trade talks with China in the wake of that country’s refusal to allow unionists to visit.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says that the cancellation of visas for senior world union leaders – including New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Ross Wilson – raised serious concerns about labour prospects under a free-trade agreement.

Wilson was to attend an OECD seminar in Beijing next week with representatives of 25 governments, union leaders from 20 countries, and 15 foreign investors to discuss raising labour standards in China. China cancelled the meeting and invalidated all the participants' visas, claiming it was "inappropriate and inconvenient" timing. It is understood that the cancellation was ordered by senior government officials.

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little is today writing to the Prime Minister to repeat the union’s request that the CTU be represented on the New Zealand panel negotiating the FTA with China.

“The Government must not underestimate the seriousness of this issue,” Mr Little said.

“It is the biggest single issue facing New Zealand manufacturing workers. They are well aware of the potential ramifications of free-trade with China.”

Mr Little said that workers understood the need for trade, but believed that the companies for whom they worked should not be exposed to unfair competition from foreign manufacturers who failed to honour even the most basic of international labour rights.

“The development of free trade with China must go hand-in-hand with the development of human rights in China,” he said, “particularly the right for workers to organise and bargain for better pay and conditions without fear of repercussions.”

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