Labour

The International Labour Organisation’s World Labor Report 2000 showed that increasing trade liberalization and the effects of globalization have resulted in job losses and less secure employment in both industrialized and Third World countries. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatizations, labour market deregulation, higher unemployment and strongarm tactics against union organizing are rolling back many of the hardwon fruits of struggle for workers around the world, and are being locked in by international free trade and investment agreements.

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In the name of global competitiveness, labour laws are being dismantled. Deindustrialization, as small- and medium-sized producers are crushed by floods of duty-free imports or by transnational rivals setting up shop nearby, has led to massive job losses.

The policies of liberalization and privatization have marched hand in hand with the restructuring of work and especially casualization and flexibility. As public spending is cut, many in the public service sector are laid off. This has led to the erosion of fulltime jobs, the growth of casual and contract labour positions and the intensification of work. Industry strategies of contracting out and outsourcing work, and the casualization have eroded the unionized workforce, along with the resurgence of temporary foreign worker programs in a number of countries. Bosses are able to threaten relocation of the workplace to a location with a cheaper, non-union workforce to bully workers trying to organize.

Such neoliberal policies force people from their farms, jobs, families and communities and into exploitation and precarity as migrant workers in other countries. Deindustrialization and the downsizing and privatization of essential services — accompanied by increasing user fees — are other “push factors”, forcing growing numbers to seeking work abroad. Health and education professionals in shattered public sectors are forced to migrate in search of work. Free trade, its advocates (like the US Administration) promise, will supposedly lead to a reduction of immigration because countries will become more prosperous. Washington proclaimed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would lead Mexico to export goods, and not people to the US, yet so-called illegal immigration to the US has risen.

Some FTAs include provisions or agreements on labour mobility, such as deals which Japan has signed with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines which allow for a limited number of nurses and caregivers into Japan on a temporary basis, prompting critics to argue that such deals merely institutionalize the commodification, exploitation and international trade in workers.

In many countries, trade unions and workers are playing important roles in struggles against FTAs. In Korea, for example, many thousands of KCTU members participated in demonstrations against the US-Korea FTA. Workers throughout Central America countries actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala.

last update: May 2012

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  • 14-Jul-2015 Law360 TPP opponent skewers Mexico’s labor standards
    The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee called on the Obama administration on Friday to use the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord as an engine for improving Mexico’s labor regime, which he said has been in persistent decline since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
  • 7-Jul-2015 Left Foot Forward Obama seeks to fast track TTIP
    Unions such as Unite and the United Steelworkers in the US and Canada have warned that their hard fought for and cherished social, employment rights and sectoral collective bargaining system may be undermined by new trade deals.
  • 17-Jun-2015 Service Employees International Union Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal threatens SEIU members
    The reality is that TPP would expand the power of multinational corporations while limiting the ability of the US government to protect workers, communities and the environment.
  • 24-Apr-2015 EurActiv TUC’s Owen Tudor: ’We are totally opposed to TTIP’
    Shrouded with secrecy and posing a threat to public services, Owen Tudor tells EurActiv why the UK Trade Union Congress doesn’t believe the hype over TTIP, and why exploitation, rather than immigration, should be the cause of people’s concerns.
  • 9-Feb-2015 La Libre Nous n’avons pas besoin du TTIP!
    Les responsables des deux principaux syndicats belges francophones expriment de nettes réserves à l’égard du Partenariat Transatlantique de Commerce et d’Investissement.
  • 9-Feb-2015 La Libre We don’t need the TTIP!
    The heads of the two main Francophone Belgian unions express their clear reservation on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
  • 30-Dec-2014 European Parliament The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and labour
    Negotiations on the labour provisions in TTIP will start in 2015. This briefing for the European Parliament highlights some of the issues.
  • 13-Aug-2014 Business Korea Demand for cross-border movement of professional manpower increasing in FTA talks
    The Korean government is planning to carry out a study on the import of professional manpower such as consultants, engineers and lawyers and its impact on the domestic job market, as the issue is emerging in FTA negotiations across the world,
  • 3-Jul-2014 rabble.ca Why workers should unite against Canada’s next-generation trade deals
    With Canada’s labour movement searching for alternative economic models for a post-crisis, climatically unstable world, the government’s new trade and investment pacts are barriers to a better future and must be resisted.
  • 12-May-2014 Global Research The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the rights of Mexican workers
    The deep integration of the continent makes a continental labour response necessary and possible. However, the prospects of such a response depend on the political evolution in the Mexican working-class on both sides of the border, the political evolution of unions in North America, and more general developments in the politics and economy of each country.
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