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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  • 8-Feb-2009 AFP Swiss say big yes to EU labour
    The Swiss shook off right-wing fears over job losses on Sunday, voting resoundingly to prolong an EU free labour agreement and extending the policy to workers from bloc newcomers Bulgaria and Romania.
  • 29-Jan-2009 AFL-CIO Bush deals last-minute insults to workers’ rights
    In Bush’s final hours in office, he implemented a trade agreement with Peru despite calls by Congress, unions, environmental and human rights groups to delay action to ensure that Peru’s laws meet its commitments before the agreement enters into force. At the same time, the Bush Labor Department’s Office of Trade & Labor Affairs rejected a petition, the first of its kind, under the labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Act (CAFTA).
  • 21-Sep-2008 NACLA Displaced people: NAFTA’s most important product
    Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, the US Congress has debated and passed several new bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Jordan and Chile, as well as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Congressional debates over immigration policy have proceeded as though those trade agreements bore no relationship to the waves of displaced people migrating to the United States, looking for work.
  • 9-Aug-2008 Islands Business Viewpoint: Labour mobility deals
    Under pressure to sign on to new free trade agreements, Pacific Islands governments interested in securing positive outcomes for their peoples see deals on labour mobility as potential development gains. But is this the right approach? And what are the potential costs?
  • 19-Jul-2008 AFL-CIO Now blog Tomatoes or children?
    It is gratifying that our government will go to such lengths to stamp out a dangerous bacterium. It is less encouraging to know that the inspectors were not looking at massive labor rights violations, especially the systematic employment of young children in hazardous conditions, which have existed in the tomato industry for decades.
  • 26-Jun-2008 EU multi-level trade policy: neither coherent nor development-friendly
    The EU is demanding far-reaching trade concessions by developing countries which will help to increase their vulnerability. To merely include some paragraphs that all parties will respect and promote human and worker’s rights is just plain insufficient.
  • 23-Jun-2008 CAW Asian women workers’ declaration on free trade agreements
    There is increasing and irrefutable evidence that free trade deals devalue and homogenise cultures, stunt economic development, displace communities and are major drivers of increasing rural and urban poverty. Women are disproportionately affected.
  • 15-Jun-2008 “Free trade”, neoliberal immigration & the globalization of guestworker programs
    An analysis of how free trade and investment agreements affect migrant workers
  • 2-Jun-2008 ITUC Trade unions and bilaterals: Do’s and don’ts - a trade union guide [EN-ES-FR]
    This trade union guide to bilaterals has been produced in an effort to fill an information gap so that trade unions can get more involved in their governments’ negotiation and implementation of bilateral and regional trade agreements
  • 26-Mar-2008 Rebanadas de Realidad Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores las Américas: 700 sindicalistas se reúnen en Panamá
    Según el Plan de Acción consensuado para los trabajadores es imprescindible fortalecer los procesos de integración regional y subregional, con una participación plena de los trabajadores y trabajadoras, como respuesta a los Tratados de Libre Comercio (TLC) que sólo profundizan la brecha entre y dentro de los países empobrecidos y países ricos
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