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New National AFL-CIO Report On The Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement Highlights Lack Of Worker Protections

Published Wednesday, February 17, 2016
by National AFL-CIO News

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - During a conference call held Tuesday (February 16th) in Washington, National AFL-CIO Director of International Affairs Cathy Feingold and AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist Celeste Drake discussed a newly-released AFL-CIO Report: A Gold Standard for Workers? The State of Labor Rights in Trans-Pacific Partnership Countries – which finds a lack of adequate Labor Rights Provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Agreement.

“Calling the TPP’s Labor Rights Provisions a ‘gold standard’ is a ‘mirage,’” Drake said. “We know from experience that the discretionary dispute settlement model ‘does not work’ for ‘vulnerable’ Workers, and the highly-touted ‘new’ labor provisions ‘do not provide meaningful new protections’ for ‘abused and exploited’ Workers.”

Feingold also talked about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit that President Obama is hosting and the TPP implications: “The consistency plans ‘fall woefully short’ of ‘ensuring’ that all twelve TPP countries will be in ‘full compliance’ with the TPP’s Labor Standard on ‘day one’ of the agreement.  Vietnam will get a five-year ‘free pass’ to ‘deny’ freedom of association and there is ‘no plan’ for Mexico ‘at all.’  This problem would be ‘compounded’ if countries such as Thailand and Cambodia join the TPP ‘without first affording all’ of their Workers ‘fundamental’ Worker Rights and ‘acceptable’ conditions of work.”

The National AFL-CIO TPP Report concludes and recommends:

The TPP, as currently written, is troubling in numerous ways.

Of course, the agreement covers not just traditional trade issues, such as tariffs and quotas, but sets rules that will limit our democracy and how our government can regulate in the public interest.

The TPP creates new and expansive legal rights for foreign investors - including their very own private legal system that is outside the reach of U.S. courts.

The current Labor Chapter, even with improved language, does not represent a counterbalance to the protections and privileges gained by corporations.

In the TPP, the interests of Workers and the promotion of their rights are embedded in a failed model.

The Labor Movement has now had years of experience with Labor Rights Language in trade agreements.  As documented by the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Government does little to actively monitor or enforce commitments.

Unlike corporations that are able to unilaterally access dispute settlement mechanisms, Workers do not have the power to initiate complaints and must petition their governments to advocate on their behalf.  For Workers denied their rights, trying to convince another government to initiate a complaint focused on the rights of foreign workers has resulted in an unworkable process.

The fact is no Worker in the global economy has won the right to form an Independent Union and to Bargain Collectively as a result of the enforcement of a Worker Rights Provision in a trade agreement.  And there has never been a single monetary fine or tariff penalty imposed for Labor Violations in any U.S. Trade Agreement.

To make matters worse, the United States seeks to enter into the TPP with a number of Pacific Rim Nations with troubling Anti-Worker Practices.

USTR gave away crucial negotiating leverage by not insisting that trade benefits be contingent on adherence and promotion of the core Labor Standards.

To let the TPP enter into force without full compliance with all Labor Commitments from all 12 countries undermines the entire agreement.

It sends the message that promises to comply - in any area - are sufficient.

If the TPP is going to have beneficial effects, promises and changes on paper are not enough.

Nor does the TPP rebalance the playing field in ways beneficial for Workers in the United States or globally.

The chapters setting out rules for services, financial services, food safety and other regulations put some economic decision making a step further from democratic control, encircling domestic decision making within the neoliberal, deregulatory, Washington consensus indefinitely.

This means that when political winds blow in the opposite direction, seeking more activist policies regarding Wall Street or food safety or government purchasing, foreign countries and foreign companies will be empowered to challenge those policies.

Even if the Labor Promises of the TPP’s authors were to come to fruition, the Labor Chapter alone would not create an equity of benefits for Workers.

The rules included in the other chapters enshrine an inequitable “you’re on your own” economic model that places all of the downside risk of trade on Working People without setting up adequate countermeasures that ensure future economic growth will be sustainable and inclusive.

As it currently stands, the TPP fails Workers.

The National AFL-CIO and Global Labor Movement stand in opposition to the agreement.

To be effective at creating shared prosperity and inclusive growth, the TPP must be renegotiated to include protections for Workers, as well as the environment and other public interest issues that are as strong as all other protections in the agreement - including those for investors.

Moreover, the other chapters must be renegotiated to include rules that promote rather than inhibit progressive economic policies that correct market failures, ensure adequate government investment in infrastructure and human development, and provide certainty for Workers - not just global businesses.

The AFL-CIO urges Congress to only support a people-centered trade approach that will guarantee the benefits of trade can improve the working and living lives of millions of Workers and their families in the United States and throughout TPP countries.

Further, we stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to renegotiate the TPP so that it works for people who work.

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