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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  • 23-Jan-2012 CRS US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Labor issues
    This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report examines three labor issues and arguments related to the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, signed on October 21, 2011: violence against trade unionists; impunity (accountability for or punishment of the perpetrators); and worker rights protections for Colombians.
  • 15-Jan-2012 Union says immigrants forced to accept pay below minimum wage
    Chinese chefs working here are being asked to accept pay cuts or face losing their jobs, because of hundreds of Chinese chefs entering the country under the free trade agreement with China.
  • 28-Nov-2011 alterinfos ÉTATS-UNIS-COLOMBIE - Clauses sociales : l’APC-TLC relance-t-il la discussion ?
    Ce texte a comme principal propos de s’interroger sur la possibilité que les clauses sociales et environnementales des traités de libre échange deviennent un instrument important de la protection des droits du travail et des droits environnementaux en Amérique latine.
  • 4-Oct-2011 COHA Race to the bottom: Maquiladoras, free trade, can of worms
    Obama does not mention that FTAs traditionally have prompted US companies to transfer their manufacturing processes to countries with lower wages, rather than noticeably creating jobs in this country, writes COHA
  • 3-Oct-2011 Politico Workers’ rights a part of trade deals
    The Republicans’ refusal to reference the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights in the US-Colombia free trade agreement’s implementing bill — and the Obama administration’s acquiescence to that refusal — is a fundamental flaw that is becoming increasingly apparent, writes US Representative Sander Levin
  • 27-Sep-2011 AFL CIO Documentary: CAFTA led to workers’ rights violations in Honduras
    Ever since it was passed five years ago, the Central America Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) has led to an increase in unemployment, violations of worker rights and discrimination against women in Honduras, according to an about-to-be-released documentary.
  • 27-Sep-2011 WBEZ Jordan firm accused of sexual abuse supplied clothes to Sears, Target and others
    Since 2007, at least 300 young female employees have been raped and brutalized by Classic managers while sewing clothes for giant retailers, including Hanes, Target, Sears, Macy’s and Land’s End. These garments enter the US duty-free under the US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.
  • 23-Sep-2011 Prensa Latina FTAs promote inequality: Stiglitz
    According to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner for economics, free trade agreements constitute one of the clearest links between globalization and increasing inequality.
  • 23-Sep-2011 Prensa Latina TLC promueven desigualdad: Stiglitz
    Los Tratados de Libre Comercio (TLC) constituyen uno de los vínculos más evidentes entre la globalización y el aumento de la desigualdad, según el premio Nobel de Economía Joseph Stiglitz.
  • 12-Aug-2011 In These Times Guatemala labor case: US steps up pressure
    The United Steelworkers union (USW) said it strongly supported the US plan to move forward with arbitration.
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