SYDNEY—Australia and China have brokered a deal which exempts Chinese construction workers building a new embassy in Canberra from Australian workplace laws.
Under the deal the construction site is covered by diplomatic status—and is effectively Chinese soil.
This status means Australian safety standards will not be enforced and Australian authorities will have no jurisdiction to assist injured or killed workers.
Dean Hall, ACT secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), says there are already reports of safety concerns on the site, including the use of single plank scaffolds, the Canberra Times reported.
“Nowhere in Australia, on any work site, would that be acceptable,” said Mr Hall.
“There is a real and present threat of injury.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says the Chinese embassy has assured compliance to state building, employment and safety standards.
DFAT also says that all workers on site are Chinese citizens, who have been granted diplomatic visas to work on the project.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra has previously seen controversy with revelations in 1995 that Australian and US authorities had monitored embassy officials through fibre optic cables planted in the walls.
While a planned extension of the Australian embassy in Beijing is not yet underway, the deal allows reciprocal provisions for Australian officials to construct secure accommodations.