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Minimum wage free trade deal will meet resistance

Maritime Union media release for immediate release Monday 9 October 2006

Maritime Union says minimum wage free trade deal will meet industrial resistance

Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the Union will resist any attempt to undermine wages and conditions through short term casual workers imported under free trade deals.

He says that comments by Trade Minister Phil Goff on the China free trade deal are disturbing for workers and not in line with the Labour Government's commitment to a high skill, high wage economy.

There will be no incentive for training or paying for skills if businesses are able to step outside the national labour market and pull in trained staff on the minimum wage, says Mr Hanson.

"The Minister is saying that the minimum wage and minimum conditions will be applied to any overseas labour, but if this is being used as the benchmark for skilled labour, then we are in serious trouble."

Mr Hanson says the glaring example of the fishing industry was showing what would happen under free trade in workers.

He says that minimum wage conditions and overseas labour have become the standard in the fishing industry, and a mass campaign by employers is fighting any improvement.

"The industry is riddled with exploitation and abuse of which documented cases are common and have been the subject of Department of Labour investigation and reports, and many workers are not receiving even the basic protections of the law."

"Look no further – this mess is exactly what will be coming ashore under free trade deals."

Mr Hanson says that the use of overseas shipping with overseas crews had devastated New Zealand shipping, and was a threat to New Zealand ports.

"The use of short-term, casualized and temporary labour in ports has caused massive problems in Europe, and would do the same in New Zealand."

Mr Hanson says the transport unions affiliated to the International Transport Workers Federation worldwide are running a global campaign against attacks on wages and conditions through movement of short- term labour under free trade deals.

"These problems emerge in all sorts of areas, such as the use of crews to load and unload vessels, and the replacement of permanent jobs through employers moving casual labour over borders."

The China free trade deal is a first and is being described as a "template" for future deals which means that New Zealand is being run as a experiment, says Mr Hanson.

Mr Hanson says political questions on the future of workers in New Zealand are being decided by unelected trade officials behind closed doors.

"The whole thing stinks of the Rogernomics era where change was rammed through as New Zealand was used as a test case for free market policies which benefited the wealthy but caused terrible damage and harm to workers."

He says that Australia is following a much more cautious line on free trade deals after "intelligent resistance" from workers and farmers to the negative implications.

"Chinese business wanted to control the entire transport and distribution line in Australia from mines to rail to ports to shipping, with Chinese workers employed under Chinese conditions. Do they want that here as well?"

Mr Hanson says throwing figures around like $400 million in increased trade are merely guesswork, and no attention is being paid to who that money will be flowing through to.

"If it means that the business elite are getting their hands on it while workers are pushed down to the poverty line, they will have a major fight on their hands."

ENDS

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