TTIP should help, not hinder, workers

Employment & Income,Inclusive Economy22 Sep 2014James Hoffa

US citizens have found themselves on the short end of the stick too many times to believe that the TTIP will create more jobs.

The US and EU nations have much in common. They are first-world countries and political allies represented by democratically-elected leaders. But a proposed trade pact between the US and EU is no way to further that relationship, especially for their citizenry.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a job loser for American workers based on leaked details of its still-secret text and would likely harm the economies of many European nations as well. Labour provisions expected to be included in the deal do not provide enough protections. Additionally, language that would bar preferred status to national companies in government purchasing – known as the Buy American program in the US – would starve job creation.

Any TTIP agreement must expand on the labour rights granted to American workers in other recent trade deals so they equal the protections granted to those employed in the EU. For example, that could mean endorsing the creation of transnational work councils that would bring together company employees across borders and involve them in discussions with corporate executives.

It would also mean granting more rights for temporary workers so all employees are on equal footing. As it stands, the EU requires that workers hired by temp agencies receive the same pay, overtime, breaks and time off as their permanent brethren. Such a provision should be included in TTIP.

One thing a deal cannot do, however, is end the more than 80-year-old US procurement program that gives preferences to American companies when it comes to government contracts. A paper issued last year by the European Commission made it clear the EU wants the ‘Buy American’ program, which ensures US taxpayer dollars stay within the country, to be terminated. It would be a tremendous mistake to end the program, given its immense popularity among US citizens of all political stripes and the fact it gives US companies a leg up in securing some US$556 billion in federal contracts annually.

Another important issue that must be reckoned with is investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) language. As it stands, the investment provisions believed to be included in the agreement are dragging the trade pact down. Government regulations put in place by the US and EU should not be able to be challenged when companies decide they threaten their profit margins.

Unions on both sides of the Atlantic — including the European Trade Union Confederation — are opposed to these ‘corporate courts.’ We trust in our democracies and judicial systems and demand that dispute settlement in the TTIP be limited to traditional, diplomatic state-to-state mechanisms.

The Teamsters also join with US labour allies in supporting the Jones Act, which governs maritime transport services. EU-based airlines should not be able to carry goods or passengers on US domestic routes as they hope for. American workers will ultimately pay the price if such a provision is included in TTIP.

Supporters of this US-EU trade pact parrot many of the same arguments made for all such deals – it will lead to more exports which will create more jobs at home. But US citizens have found themselves on the short end of the stick too many times to believe such tripe again. Any deal ultimately approved must include upward harmonization that ensures a better deal for all workers: when there is a difference between how the US and the EU regulate something, the negotiators should err on the side of the higher standards, the better protections. Otherwise, it shouldn’t happen.

This expert opinion is one of a series of articles on trade agreements. The series was published shortly before the start of the 7th round of negotiations on TTIP on 29 September and the expiry of the deadline for signing the EPAs that the EU has set at 1 October. Please find the other articles in this series here.