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Labor issues looming from new TPP trade agreement

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement will go before Congress for ratification next year. Organized labor has been one of the most vocal critics of the pact and certainly labor leaders will be scrutinizing the agreement’s Chapter 19.

Chapter 19 attempts to address organized labor’s concerns by distinguishing TPP’s labor provisions from what the Obama administration now terms the “weak” labor standards under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, and other free trade agreements.

In what the administration describes as a “sea change” from NAFTA and other free trade agreements, it claims that the TPP establishes “a new global norm for labor rights” backed up by dispute settlement procedures and trade sanctions.

The TPP requires the 12 signatory countries to adopt and maintain fundamental labor rights and enforceable labor laws as recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO). All of these rights and laws are “fully enforceable” and backed by sanctions. That is, all signatory countries must afford their workers the rights set forth in the ILO’s “fundamental human rights” standards, including: freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, the elimination of forced labor, abolition of child labor, and freedom from discrimination in employment.

The TPP also requires signatory countries to adopt and maintain laws on “acceptable conditions of work” including minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. Signatory countries also commit not to weaken labor laws in export processing zones.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has already announced plans to “defeat the TPP.” Of course, the TPP obligates the United States, as a signatory, to commit to “acceptable” labor standards as well, a point which organized labor will surely highlight as it pushes for increases in the minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, and other “labor law reforms,” including ratification of ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights broader than those contained in U.S. labor laws.

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