Government bans unions from ‘sitting at the table’ in trade negotiations Business News

The No 10 and the Commerce Department are preventing unions from participating in sensitive trade negotiations despite union offers to sign confidentiality agreements, according to key union representatives.

Business groups are allowed to review key details and some draft text of trade agreements, but for over a year unions have been barred from offering meaningful input on labor law and workers’ rights. workers in secret groups set up by the Ministry of International Trade (DIT).

In the past four months, the decision to join was taken by No.10 after the Commerce Department delayed the inclusion of unions in these groups, The independent understand.

On August 26, 2020, the government cut its previous trade advisory groups and created new ones, which exclude unions from sensitive details. Instead, he lumped them into a separate group, which does not have the right to get detailed information about trade negotiations, according to the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

“It has been over a year since the trade advisory groups were first established. It is beyond comprehension that the unions still have no seats at the table for more than eight months since the government promised the unions would be involved, ”said Rosa Crawford, TUC’s trade policy manager.

“Trade agreements should improve workers’ rights, job opportunities and wages – and reduce global inequalities. But currently, the agreements are not made in the interests of the workers. “

Membership in these groups requires members to sign nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from discussing the details of the discussions. The TUC has told the government it would be ready to sign these contracts, but it has still not been allowed to participate in these sensitive meetings. This despite the government’s promise last year to grant them access, a point to which the Commerce Department did not respond in a request for comment from The independent.

Other countries also require members of advisory groups to sign confidentiality contracts and note that secrecy is important to ensure that the national interest is not compromised by disclosed negotiating goals. But they also, in many cases, include unions in these talks, and in the United States, such consultation is a legal requirement.

A spokesperson for the DIT said the department engages “extensively with unions to ensure that workers’ interests are fully consulted in our trade policy.”

“Trade advisory groups have been created to allow companies to contribute to the ministry’s approach to FTAs, and therefore perform a different function than trade union advisory groups. We continually review our structures and ensure that our consultation approach remains fit for purpose, ”they added.

The exclusion from the TUC comes as the government attempts to strike deals with Australia, New Zealand and other members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as part of its efforts to join the commercial block. This bloc includes countries like Brunei that do not recognize labor laws, according to the TUC.

“This is a government that promised to make Britain the best place in the world to work. Yet time and again ministers rushed into agreements that had no effective means of enforcing labor standards, ”Crawford said.

Other concerns about CPTPP membership include Investor-State Dispute Resolution Mechanisms (ISDS), which can allow legal disputes to be resolved behind closed doors.

Labor shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry said Liz Truss had shown she was not interested in the expertise of unions and civil society groups.

“That is why the agreements she has reached so far have nothing new to say in areas ranging from protecting workers’ rights to creating green jobs,” Thornberry said.

“It is a simple fact that if workers’ representatives are involved in UK trade negotiations, we will get better deals for our country. It is the height of arrogance for Liz Truss to think that she is the only one who knows best, ”she added.

In other trade agreements, ISDS has been used by private companies to sue countries when they try to improve working conditions and environmental standards. Although it ultimately failed, the French company Veolia pursued a case for six years against the Egyptian government after introducing an increase in the national minimum wage.

Two members of the Commerce Department’s trade groups on the trade negotiations confirmed that they were being offered more detailed updates than appear to be shared with the unions. However, one business executive who has attended such meetings said that “it is also often a total waste of time” and they also do not offer enough information.

“We are often asked after the fact what we might expect from trade policy, rather than the other way around,” they added.

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This notice was published: 2021-09-01 19:41:54

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