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Monty Rakusen

Dodgy trade deals aren’t working for working people

Author
Published date
15 May 2018
Unions and businesses are demanding a seat at the negotiating table

Working people are sick of dodgy trade deals that threaten our NHS, rights at work, and consumer and environmental protections.

Secret negotiations such as those over the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) have undermined public trust in the process and denied working people a voice in decisions that will directly affect them.

Now the TUC has joined forces with employers, unions, environmental and social justice campaigners to demand a much bigger role in future trade negotiations.

Lifting the shroud

Unions were completely shut out of the negotiations over CETA, a deal this is now threatening workers’ rights, the NHS and other important standards and protections.

To avoid this happening again, the TUC has joined forces with Unite, the CBI, the International Chamber of Commerce, the British Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Trade Justice Movement and others.

Together these organisations have issued a joint statement – ‘A Trade Governance Model that Works for Everyone’ – setting out our demands for how future trade deals should be negotiated.

We believe that the best way to ensure that future trade deals create well-paid jobs, protect public services, and respect International Labour Organisation conventions on workers’ rights is to involve unions, employers and civil society in negotiations from the outset.

But this will require a very different approach from the government. And unfortunately, old habits often die hard on Whitehall.

Getting workers round the table

Rather than recognising the public appetite for greater transparency, the government seems determined to shroud all future trade negotiations in even greater secrecy.

For example, its proposed Trade Bill provides no role in negotiations for unions, employers or any civil society group, even though it will give ministers the power to re-negotiate existing EU trade deals without any parliamentary scrutiny.

This is nowhere near good enough, which is why we’re calling for trade unions, businesses and other stakeholders to be properly consulted on this and any future legislation relating to trade.

There also needs to be full transparency during trade negotiations in the future. This means engaging with trade unions and other civil society groups from the outset so that they focus on what is best for workers and society.

Finally, negotiators should work hand-in-glove with trade unions and other stakeholders throughout the process so that the final deal benefits workers across the economy and protects their rights at work.

Better democratic scrutiny

These are our principal demands for future trade negotiations, but we also want to see the government take further action on other aspects of UK trade policy.

Our joint statement makes clear that there is no place in future trade deals for the special ISDS-style courts that foreign investors have used in the past to challenge increases to the minimum wage and other protections for workers.

The statement also calls for proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals to ensure that legislation like the Trade Bill cannot be ratified without a vote in parliament.

It's simply not right that hundreds of EU trade agreements could be converted into UK trade agreements without MPs having a say.

That's why our joint statement calls for a guaranteed debate and vote for all trade deals so that working people are properly represented in the democratic process.

The way ahead

The TUC will keep working with our partners to push the government to amend the Trade Bill and implement the demands contained in our joint statement.

We will also seek to build on the small measures that the EU has taken in recent years towards engaging better with stakeholders during trade negotiations.

For example, following outcry from the public (and trade unions) about the secretive nature of the TTIP negotiations, the EU established an advisory group consisting of unions, employers and consumer representatives in 2014.

This group were shown confidential parts of TTIP and asked to provide the EU negotiators with their feedback.

While this represented some progress, the group was very small, consisting of only 14 members. Worse, only this membership included only two trade union representatives to represent the 40 million workers who make up the total trade union membership of the EU.

The union reps were also prevented from sharing any documents, making it very difficult for them to provide detailed feedback to trade unions about the state of the negotiations.

In any case, there was little sign that any concerns raised by the unions reps were taken on board by negotiators.

After all, TTIP as it stands still contains ISDS, has no enforceable commitments on workers’ rights, and would open up the NHS to further privatisation.

Time for a new approach

So it’s clear that a much bolder approach is needed. That’s why our joint statement is calling for much stronger action from the government.

If trade deals are to secure public support in the future, then the era of shady backroom deals must end. Instead, let’s give everyone a seat at the negotiating table and build a better society for all.