AFL-CIO | 21 January 2009
Bush Deals Last-Minute Insults to Workers’ Rights
by James Parks
The Bush administration couldn’t resist taking a final slap at human rights. In Bush’s final hours in office, he implemented on Friday 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.
The new “reforms” passed by Peru’s Congress last week are inadequate to protect the environment, promote worker rights and ensure access to affordable medicines, as required by the agreement.
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) The petition, filed in April by six Guatemalan unions, with the support of the AFL-CIO, involved five cases where employers suppressed, sometimes violently, workers’ efforts to form a union, and the government failed to protect worker’s internationally recognized rights.
AFL-CIO Policy Director Thea Lee says these two actions:
....were a parting shot of disrespect by the Bush administration.
In a last-ditch effort to avert criticism and secure implementation of the agreement before Bush left office, the Peruvian government approved a series of legislative reforms Jan. 13 that exacerbate current environmental problems, such as mass deforestation, and do not adequately address labor rights, labor and human rights groups say.
Here is Susan Ellsworth, associate representative with the Sierra Club:
The U.S. Congress voted for an FTA that members believed represented a new day for environmental protection and worker rights on trade agreements. This is not what will happen if Peru rushes through flawed laws at the eleventh hour.
Many members of Congress, including President Barack Obama, supported the U.S.-Peru agreement in 2007 because it included new and stronger provisions to promote worker rights and protect the environment. But the rush to certify the FTA now threatens to undercut these advances and lock inadequate laws into place.
Peru’s labor laws still fall far short of meeting International Labor Organization standards, and we were deeply disappointed with the Bush administration’s decision to rush implementation without first securing compliance with the agreement’s provisions. This represents a wasted opportunity and shows poor faith on the part of our own government.
The Bush administration refused to even consider the Guatemalan unions’ complaint even though four union leaders and/or their family members were murdered in that country since the agreement was approved by Congress and many others have been victims of attempted murder or have received death threats. Workers who attempt to form or join a union, bargain collectively or conduct a strike still are routinely fired illegally, the unions say.