TPP forced Labor unions a good news or bad news?

An article by Kenneth Kim titled “What the Trans-Pacific Partnership Means For Investing In Vietnam” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kennethkim/2015/11/07/what-the-trans-pacific-partnership-means-for-investing-in-vietnam/#60ac42c97733, dtd. Nov 7, 2015) comments on the forced creation of Union rights for Vietnamese people. While agreeing that Vietnam is perhaps the biggest gainer in the deal and that the deal will fast track its economy (which is currently is a very good shape) to be among top 20 soon, he also mentions concern of some groups that by forcing creation of union rights, we are taking away Vietnamese Sovereignty. The author also mentions about the concerns that unionized labor in Vietnam will be ineffective and would be ignored in the name of profits. The author dismisses these concerns by taking example of China, which despite being a communist country, has strong provisions for unionization of workers. The author states that unionized workers in China earn more and work lesser hours than their non-unionized counterparts. Will unionization of workers have intended effects for Vietnam? And would the results seen in China be replicated in Vietnam?

 

The US-VN Plan for Enhancement of trade and labor relations

There has been some time since the TPP full text has been in the public view. If we look closely, there is a separate section for labor relations with Vietnam (https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/TPP-Final-Text-Labour-US-VN-Plan-for-Enhancement-of-Trade-and-Labor-Relations.pdf), Malaysia and Brunei. Of all three, Vietnam is the most expansive plan clearly signaling how important Vietnam is to US for trade deals. In many blogs, there has been criticism of current Labor practices in Vietnam and also the supposed US soft stand on those issues(Article credit: “After Trans-Pacific Partnership Text Released, Labor Advocates Say Human Rights Protections ‘Not Enforceable’”, by Abigail Abrams, 11/05/15 http://www.ibtimes.com/after-trans-pacific-partnership-text-released-labor-advocates-say-human-rights-2171278). But if we see from a normal standpoint (I am not commenting on the legality of the agreement or enforceability), TPP can usher in a bevy of reforms in Vietnam. The agreement calls out for a variety of reforms, especially for formation of labor unions, their autonomy and effectiveness, formation of ministry and department of labor, abolishment of forced or debt labor, provide capacity for labor department, child labor and the implementation of the same. Also, Vietnam will have to be transparent on its budget, inspection and status of unions. Most of these articles need to be implemented by the time TPP is in force. Only one article regarding enactment of laws for formation of labor unions across enterprises and verticals has to be implemented in five years, which is currently being contested by International Labor Organizations. However, is getting in 90% of reforms better than having nothing at all? Can the pressure of having these reforms be considered a violation of Viet Nam’s sovereignty? And which courts will the violations be addressed in?

 

Will the TPP really protect the worker?

Up until now the United States has never had a trade agreement that protects basic rights and raises wages and living standards for working people. Previous ones have failed to ensure integrity of the process and preserve environmental protections. The big question is whether this agreement will have improvements to the labor chapter over the years, and this has to be seen because the enforcement record has been pretty mediocre.

In 2010, the U.S. and Colombian governments with an eye to speeding the long stalled U.S.-Colombia trade deal, announced a labor action plan which was intended to bring Colombia into compliance with the internationally recognized labor rights. Since the plan’s announcement, 105 Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated and even in the new standard it is insufficient for the monumental task of creating a fair playing field. The labor movement has fought for more than 20 years to include labor provisions in trade deals. Workers in the U.S. and trading partners have economic interest in ensuring that basic rights are respected, and if employers can violate the right to unionize, then they can easily bring down the wages. That’s why AFL-CIO working with union federations from other TPP countries has offered suggestions to the government over past 5 years to improve the labor chapter and address previous failures of trade deals.

The recommendation from the labor party includes

(1) The right to bring labor claim based on a single egregious coalition

(2) Clear rules and deadlines that would require timely action on meritorious cases

(3) Protection for migrant workers

(4) Ban on goods produced with forced/child labor.

(5) Independent secretariat to study and review labor practices

(6) New standards related to labor inspections and decent work

There is no public draft of TPP, so the AFL-CIO doesn’t know yet whether any of the suggestions have been taken into the TPP. Countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Brunei and Malaysia are notorious labor and human rights violators which are out of compliance with the standards in the TPP. There is no plan to withhold TPP benefits for these countries. SO this raises serious doubts of whether TPP will create a level playing field for the workers.

That is why AFL-CIO is opposing Obama administration giving fast-track to the final deal. They say that the administration should release a public text and let the people judge for themselves whether this deal will truly raise labor standards and conditions for workers when in history every deal has been ineffective.

TPP needs reforms in some sections

Contrary to popular belief that the TPP will affect not every aspect of industrial trade, Richard Trumka on 20th July 2015 reported that the TPP is intended to affect every aspect of every trade.

 

 

The TPP will impact the foreign corporations, rules of origin, economies, and should also impact the labor rights and laws, currency manipulations and climate change resolutions. But the latter ones need more substantial reforms according to Trumka. To read more of these go to “http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/07/20/tpp-trans-pacific-partnership-trade-fundamental-reforms-nafta-column/30197797/

Will the TPP be able to encompass all the sections of trade? With the enormity of the deal, will the deal be approved anytime soon?