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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    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
  • 11-Dec-2007 Colombia Journal Bush and Harper ignore Colombia’s labor rights reality
    There is no moral justification for the United States and Canada negotiating a free trade agreement with Colombia when the foundation of these pacts is the slaughter of Colombian unionists. The perpetrators of these crimes should not be rewarded with an agreement that most Colombians do not want.
  • 28-Nov-2007 Mingas Letter from Colombian unions to US Congress
    In the framework of the debate in the respective congresses around the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the United States, the Administration of Alvaro Uribe Vélez has spread the idea in governmental circles in the United States that the Colombian union movement is divided and that "a majority" sector supports the TLC. In this document, we will demonstrate that this idea does not reflect the reality of the Colombian union movement.
  • 16-Nov-2007 What jobs?
    No Deal! Movement Against Unequal Economic Agreements on the questionable employment benefits of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA)
  • 14-Nov-2007 Upside Down World Mexico-Guatemala: The other border
    The loss of jobs in the agricultural industries, along with increases in the cost of living with fewer employment opportunities under CAFTA are speculated to produce economic and social hardships that will result in migration both within and outside Central American nations. Most of this migration will be directed towards Mexico and the US.
  • 31-Oct-2007 AlterNet New research: Win-win from "free trade" is a big lie
    Neoliberal "trade" deals depress wages for 70 percent of workers.
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