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China deal biggest threat to workers since ECA

Maritime Union of New Zealand media release for immediate release

Friday 6 October 2006

Free trade deal biggest threat to workers since ECA, says Maritime Union

The Maritime Union says the free trade deal with China is the biggest threat to workers in New Zealand since the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991.

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the importation of short-term, casualized skilled labour being paid the minimum wage will be a disaster.

"This is obviously going to have a major and negative effect on wages and conditions in New Zealand."

He says that a New Zealand company or Chinese company that sets up business here in a free trade environment and imports cheap labour will immediately force other New Zealand companies to do the same in order to survive.

Mr Hanson says the current situation in the fishing industry was a clear example of what to expect.

"What happens now is a fishing company advertises for staff at extreme low rates of pay in the knowledge that New Zealand workers won't apply, and the company is then approved to bring in cheap overseas labour by the Immigration Department."

"We have politicians lining up to defend a minimum wage economy based on overseas labour – local workers don't get a look in with these people."

The Maritime Union of New Zealand shares concerns by the Green Party, New Zealand First and Alliance about the free trade proposals.

Mr Hanson says the Union movement and workers have to wake up to what is happening.

"This is not where it ends, this is just the first step in a process and the Government needs to be honest about the kind of pressures that are coming on them in this free trade deal."

Mr Hanson urged the Government to look at the European Community where the use of cheap labour moved across borders was creating social havoc.

"Ask your local MP what and how a free trade agreement with China will work, and they won't have the smallest idea of the implications – let alone the person in the street."

He says that any free trade deal is a one-way street, and was a grave threat to some of the basic aspects of democracy.

"Any farmer who thinks this is the way forward should reflect that in the near future the only sheep he will see will be at his nearest supermarket and will be grown, branded, packed and frozen in China."

ENDS

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