The trade unions face the TTIP
For the main European trade union federation the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an opportunity for economic development. But there are serious risks.
Among the various groups that have expressed concern, if not even their opposition, about the negotiations on the TTIP are the trade unions. In this regard it is noteworthy that there is not a unanimous position among them. The unions that are linked to industrial activities, and indeed many farmers associations, are among those that have shown their direct and strong opposition.
At a broader level, and with a more positive regard towards a possible agreement, we must mention the document released by the two major trade union federations of the European Union and the United States - the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) - that under the title of Declaration of Principles on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership provides an overview of the risks and opportunities from the trade unions’ point of view. The Declaration calls for the TTIP to ensure sustainable development by requiring parties to protect fundamental labour rights and the environment.
The Declaration strongly encourages the United States and the European Union to approach the TTIP in a manner that puts shared prosperity and sustainable social and economic development at the centre of the agreement. As the Declaration states: “the TTIP should be negotiated in the public interest rather than in the interests of private investors. As with all other economic relationships, the rules of the TTIP will matter”.
Among the key provisions suggested by the Declaration are the need to include trade sanctions to enforce labour and environmental commitments; preserve the right to legislate and regulate in the public interest, including the use of the Precautionary Principle; and finally to exclude rules that would undermine domestic economic development, national security, environmental protection, workplace health and safety and social justice policies.
In a letter to European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, Benadette Ségol the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said that trade unionists are particularly concerned that the TTIP consultation “is about a reform of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and is not open to a decisive rejection”. In that sense the trade unions reject the possibility of private arbitration bodies while clearly manifesting their trust in the court systems of both the European Union member states and the United States. Under the guise of a quick and flexible way towards conflict resolution the trade unions see the undermining of the legislative powers and the privatization of the judiciary.
The Declaration also insists that the European Parliament and indeed national parliaments should be given an opportunity to express their views, as they believe that any EU agreement of such a wide spectrum would be a ‘mixed’ agreement; that is, it should take into account the opinions of national parliaments besides the Parliament of the Union.
The American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) demand a commitment from the European Union and the United States to achieve a “gold standard” agreement that improves living and working conditions on both sides of the Atlantic and guards against any attempt to use the agreement to lower standards or impinge on democratic decision making. According to their statement, “the risk of the current model of trade and economic integration agreements to democratic decisions making cannot be overstated”.
Two final remarks: the trade unions express their concerns that the TTIP will not impede or deter financial services laws or regulations or interfere with attempts to protect against systemic financial risk. The present financial and economic crisis shows how important it is that States are not restrained by international agreements from acting in order to protect family savings and access to credit by companies. In a more political perspective is the request that the TTIP will not endanger the provision of critical public services. The provision of public services is an ideological battle between liberal and more social-oriented governments, in this case the word “critical” shows the trade unions are not making a claim for an over inflation in the provision of public services by the State.
The trade unions envision a people- and planet-centered agreement that respects democracy, ensures state sovereignty, protects fundamental labour, economic, social and cultural rights, and addresses climate change and other environmental challenges.
The trade unions position seem in this regard to be quite close to the principles of Catholic Social teaching; in giving priority to the work and health conditions of the labour force the Declaration is stressing the responsibility of the economic actors to grant a decent standard of work and of living for every person. The risk of reducing such social protection and standards cannot be overestimated, in that sense the request for greater transparency in the negotiations and the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible can only be praised.
Jose Ignacio Garcia