Unions warn Trudeau: No compromise on enforceable labour rights in NAFTA

“A bad agreement with good labour rights is still a bad agreement.”  — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (21 Sept. 2017) — Today, the leaders of some of Canada’s largest unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the National Union of Public and General Employees Union (NUPGE), the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW), and the United Steelworkers (USW) sent a strongly-worded letter to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, and Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, warning them about the government’s NAFTA negotiating objectives.

Union leaders to Trudeau: labour rights are not a "bargaining chip" in NAFTA negotiations

The letter’s signatories, Mark Hancock, President of CUPE, Larry Brown, President of NUPGE, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada for USW, and Paul Meinema, President of UFCW Canada, stated unequivocally that it would be unacceptable either to compromise on enforceable labour rights in NAFTA, or to leave NAFTA as essentially a corporate-favouring trade deal.

The letter identifies 2 key ingredients needed for NAFTA:

1.  First, enforceable labour rights are an absolutely necessary feature of any new trade deal. But this would not be enough to make NAFTA acceptable to labour. “Far from it,” say the leaders. Even if the trade deal had effective and enforceable labour rights, that alone would not be sufficient because “there are many things wrong with NAFTA.”

According to the letter, under no circumstances would the labour movement accept a trade deal in which “effective and enforceable labour rights had been dropped in the course of negotiations,” and in which “the issue was only raised as a bargaining chip to be traded off later.”

2. The second key ingredient is to remove all aspects of NAFTA that uniquely favour and privilege private investors: for example, the right of private investors to sue democratically elected governments, preventing governments from protecting the environment and mitigating climate change, or from regulating and spending in the public interest; and aspects of NAFTA that threaten public services and state-owned enterprises, and supply management.

The letter concludes with the following warning: “A bad agreement with good labour rights is still a bad agreement.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 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