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UAE Trade Pact Undermines Australian Policy On Human Rights And Environment

A group of eight national organisations representing millions of Australians have issued a warning to the Trade Minister that a trade pact with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) contradicts government policy on labour rights and the environment.

The group comprises the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Amnesty International Australia, ActionAid Australia, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office of Justice Ecology and Peace, Family Planning Alliance Australia (FPAA) and the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Their letter warns that proposal for a preferential Free Trade Agreement with the UAE contradicts Labor policy on the inclusion of enforceable labour rights and environmental standards in trade agreements.

The UAE system of bonded labour for temporary migrant workers has been described as a form of modern slavery.

“Temporary migrant workers form more than 90% of the private sector workforce,” said Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of AFTINET. “Most are employed under the kafala system, which ties them to individual employers, and has been classified as a system of modern slavery. “

“There is no national minimum wage and there is no right to form or join unions or to bargain collectively. Workers experience nonpayment of wages, unpaid overtime, withholding of passports, and, in some cases, psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.”

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Domestic workers, who comprise more than 12% of the total workforce and 42% of the female workforce, have even less protections than other workers, with over 70 hours of work per week and reports of forced labour, sexual abuse and human trafficking.

There is other systemic gender discrimination in the UAE.

“Physical abuse claims by women require medical reports and two male witnesses,” said Dr Ranald. “Judges have discretion to consider women as full witnesses or half witnesses.

“The law criminalises homosexuality and gender expression of trans people.” The UAE is also a major fossil fuel exporter and has been slow to act on climate change.

“With 30% of Gross Domestic Product based directly in oil and gas exports, the UAE’s climate policies and commitments are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit, and lead to

rising rather than decreasing emissions, even taking into account recently announced net-zero ambitions,” said Dr Ranald.

The letter calls on the Government not to proceed with negotiations with the UAE until it can demonstrate concrete steps to safeguard environmental standards and human rights, including workers’ rights, women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

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