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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  • 2-Jan-2007 AFP Free trade deals to put 100,000 South Koreans out of work: survey
    Free trade agreements with the United States, Japan, China and Southeast Asia would put more than 100,000 South Koreans out of work over the next 10 years, according to a government estimate.
  • 9-Dec-2006 Middle East Online Free-trade bondage in Jordan
    The Jordan-United States free-trade agreement was supposed to be a labor-rights model. It has been a disaster — ’globalization’ at its worst.
  • 16-Oct-2006 LA Times Group accuses Jordan of failing to enforce labor rights
    Critics of US trade policy say the recent incidents in Jordan illustrate the dangers of forging trade agreements that don’t adequately protect workers from abuse.
  • 3-Oct-2006 Protecting workers from the effects of FTAs
    The benefits of trade liberalisation to consumers and society as a whole have been widely acknowledged, but the hidden costs of liberalisation must also be brought to light if the free-trade regime is to move forward.
  • 28-Sep-2006 US union, business group slam Jordan sweatshops
    A leading US labour coalition and an industry group have filed a complaint with the US Trade Representative asking that it formally sanction the government of Jordan for "gross workers’ rights violations" under a controversial free trade agreement with the United States and Israel.
  • 24-Sep-2006 AFL-CIO AFL-CIO and National Textile Association file first-ever worker rights case under US-Jordan FTA
    This is the first time that a business association has formally joined in filing a worker rights case under a trade agreement. The groups called on the Bush Administration to initiate dispute settlement proceedings under the FTA that would halt gross workers’ rights violations occurring in Jordan.
  • 20-Sep-2006 CAW Employment implications of trade liberalization with East Asia
    This study examines the employment impacts of Canada’s existing bilateral trade relationships with East Asia, and the likely employment effects of the proposed Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA).
  • 31-Aug-2006 KCTU FTA, KORUS FTA and challenges of the labor movement
    I am going to provide in this writing laborers’ perspectives towards the KORUS FTA; what lies in its core, why it is so problematic, and what kinds of consequences it will bring about. In addition, although not perfect, I am going to show how the Korean labor movement should respond to the KORUS FTA and deal with its challenges.
  • 14-Aug-2006 MENAFN Salem outlines measures to protect workers’ rights in QIZs - Jordan
    Jordan’s Minister of Labour Bassem Salem on Sunday met with US Ambassador David Hale and delegates of the Office of the US Trade Representative to outline efforts to safeguard workers’ rights in the country’s Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ).
  • 8-Aug-2006 IPS Flower power - But not for the workers
    The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the United States that could be signed in October or November this year will maintain the tariff exemptions already enjoyed by Colombia’s flourishing flower industry. But there are no plans for higher wages and better working conditions for the industry’s 100,000 workers.
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