Public sector unions in Canada and Europe alarmed by proposed trade deal

Canadian public sector unions along with the European Federation of Public Service Unions release study arguing that the deal is fundamentally flawed.

Ottawa (11 Jan. 2010) - Canada’s largest public sector unions and their European counterparts are expressing serious concerns about the proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), along with the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), today released a study arguing that the deal is fundamentally flawed and a thorough rethinking of the whole approach to international trade is needed (click here for report).

“We are excited about the level of cooperation and consensus that we were able to develop on this issue; essentially all the biggest public sector unions in both Canada and the EU are of a common mind on these negotiations,” said NUPGE's national Secretary-Treasurer Larry Brown.

"When we started to look at what was known about the proposed agreement a lot of alarm bells started going off on both sides of the Atlantic,” added Brown.

“As we got further into the research it was apparent that we shared a lot of the same concerns about the process and what was being negotiated."

The unions highlight five major concerns with the proposed agreement:

  • a full evaluation of the social, environmental and labour impacts of the proposed agreement has never been completed;
  • the negotiations are taking place outside of public scrutiny and there is a need for greater transparency of the process;
  • the public needs assurances that the proposed agreement would not interfere with the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, protect existing public services or create new public programs;
  • it is important that the agreement not contain a provision like Chapter 11 in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which allows an investor or private company to challenge laws or regulations of a government that is a party to the trade agreement, and receive financial compensation; and
  • the agreement must not force governments to open public procurement to foreign companies.

“There must be a thorough evaluation of the possible effects of the proposed agreement before the talks go any futher,” said Penny Clarke, an officer with the EPSU. “The only evaluation done so far has been a very one-sided business oriented study with a very narrow focus.

"As well we are demanding full transparency,” explained Clarke. “In past trade negotiations, the public has been kept completely uninformed until the full agreement is reached and then presented with a fait accompli. This is simply unacceptable.”

Canadian and European officials began negotiating a 'Canada-European Union Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement' in the summer of 2009. Many analysts expect that it will be an extensive agreement to integrate Canada’s economy with the European Union.

The talks, described as involving “deep economic integration negotiations”, are expected to go beyond the scope of traditional agreements such as NAFTA.

As well as encompassing unrestricted trade in goods, services and investment and the removal of tariffs, the aim of the “comprehensive economic and trade agreement” (CETA) will be to also include free movement of skilled people and an open market in government services and procurement. The trade agreement would cover everything from public services to agriculture to copyright laws.

The unions intend to raise these critical issues with the federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada, and with the EU and EU member states in Europe. As well the unions will be working with allies and other organizations to bring as much force as possible to bear on the negotiating governments to take these concerns into account.

To read the full report click here.

The authors of the report:

  • Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has 600,000 members across Canada representing workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines.
  • European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) represents some 8 million public service workers from over 250 European trade unions.
  • National Union of Public and General Employees’ (NUPGE) 340,000 members work to deliver public services of every kind to the citizens of their home provinces. NUPGE also has a large and growing number of members who work for private businesses.
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) represents 165,000 members across Canada and also maintains an international profile through its representation of members who work abroad in embassies and consulates.

For more information:

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE