research / Research reports

The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and Australia's labour market: claims versus evidence

February 15 2019

Executive Summary

- When the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) was signed in 2015 claims were made that Australian jobs would go to Chinese workers and safety standards on Australian work sites would fall. 

- On the eve of ChAFTA, there were only 204 majority Chinese-owned businesses in Australia, accounting for 2.1 percent of all majority foreign-owned businesses and 0.01 percent of all businesses in Australia. Employment by majority Chinese-owned companies was - 13,100, accounting for 1.4 percent of employment by all majority foreign-owned businesses and 0.1 percent of employment by all businesses in Australia.

- Since ChAFTA’s enactment, the number of Chinese workers granted temporary work visas to enter Australia has fallen in every year. The number of visas granted to Chinese workers has also fallen as a proportion of the total granted to all foreign workers.  

- Under ChAFTA more Chinese on temporary work visas have returned home than have arrived.

- The number of Labour Agreements in effect between Chinese companies and the Australian government’s Department of Home Affairs, which could potentially facilitate Chinese workers temporarily entering Australia, is zero. 

- There have been no reports connecting ChAFTA with unsafe work practices in Australia.

Author: Professor James Laurenceson is Deputy Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. He has previously held appointments at the University of Queensland (Australia), Shandong University (China) and Shimonoseki City University (Japan). He was President of the Chinese Economics Society of Australia from 2012-2014. His academic research has been published in leading scholarly journals including China Economic Review and China Economic Journal. Professor Laurenceson also provides regular commentary on contemporary developments in China’s economy and the Australia-China economic and broader relationship. His analysis has appeared in the Australian Financial ReviewThe AustralianSydney Morning HeraldSouth China Morning Post and China Daily, amongst others.

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