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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  • 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.
  • 24-Oct-2007 CAW Canada-Korea FTA would destroy jobs in all provinces and regions
    If the Canadian federal government proceeds with a free trade agreement with Korea as promised, the impact on Canadian communities would be disastrous, according to a new study released by the CAW on October 23.
  • 18-Oct-2007 Reuters Guatemala union heads killed despite US trade deal
    Masked gunmen dumped a Guatemalan banana picker’s bullet-ridden corpse yards from fields of fruit bound for the United States, a grim reminder of the risks of organizing labor in the Central American country.
  • 22-Jun-2007 CFR Should labor standards have a role in US trade agreements?
    Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee and Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute debate the merits of labor standards in trade pacts.
  • 4-Jun-2007 Labor Ministry expresses reservations on US National Labor Committee on Jordan FTA factories
    The Labor Ministry on Monday expressed some reservations on the information contained in the US National Labor Committee report on workers at Jordan’s garment factories which are exporting duty-free under the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
  • 31-May-2007 Argus Leader Media US complicit in labor abuse
    Why would the business community be applauding an agreement that guaranteed workers’ rights in FTAs — something they’d been fighting against for years? Because they’d been given assurances, relative to American workers, "that the labor provisions cannot be read to require compliance with ILO Conventions."
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