Mining groups fear standards could slip at Australian mines if Chinese companies are allowed to bring in their own workers.
Under the new free trade agreement with China, Chinese companies will be allowed to apply to bring their own workers to Australia in cases where there are skill shortages.
Australian Mining Association chairman George Edwards says he fears such a move will undermine the mining industry’s health and safety standards.
“I know from having gone to China for nearly 40 years the standard in mines in China are not as high as they are here,” he told reporters at the Asia Pacific Resources Conference on Tuesday.
“I believe they are used to lower safety standards in general and therefore it makes it difficult for them to operate in an environment with higher standards.”
However, he noted that big Chinese state-owned mines do operate efficiently.
The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy chief executive Michael Catchpole shared similar concerns.
“As far as the FTA is concerned, we would want to ensure that if miners are brought in at a technical, operational or professional level that they have the required skills and training, and that they work within the same health and safety conditions that we expect in all Australian operations,” he said.
He said he was also concerned about the impact the labour provisions in the FTA would have on Australian jobs.
“Mining professionals in Australia are experiencing a level of unemployment that really we haven’t seen in more than a decade,” he said.
He said in the past two years unemployment among geologists and mining engineers have risen above 12 per cent – double the national unemployment figure.
“Any moves that could further exacerbate unemployment across the professional sector would be of concern,” he said.
“As a professional services organisation we are very interested in what provisions in the FTA that assist mining service organisations to extend their business in China.”
Under the FTA, Chinese companies will be able to bring in workers on three-month skilled visas.
Unions have expressed concerns about the new visa arrangements could have on Australian wages and jobs.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb has said that Chinese companies will have to comply with Australian employment laws, including their provisions on wages and conditions.