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ISSUE 69 page 2

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EU responds to TTIP transparency concerns but opposition to trade deal grows

 IN THE PERIOD FOLLOWING OUR LAST ISSUE THE public concern over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has grown to the point where the European Commission has actually changed some of the practices around its negotiations with the U.S. authorities. As well as opposition from trade unions and non-governmental organisations there have been online petitions and the European Review editor was even buttonholed by protesters in his local high street. 850,000 signatures were gathered in less than a month for a petition backed by a new platform of 300 civil society groups. Many of the criticisms focus on secrecy and this is one area where the EU authorities have responded. Outgoing Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht pointed to the monitoring of negotiators by national governments and the European Parliament, the TTIP web site and the fact that, during each round, the EU and US teams stop ‘talking to each other for a full day’ to listen to trade unionists and other campaigners. His replacement Cecilia Malmström stressed the importance of transparency at her hearing before the European Parliament. As well as more involvement by the national and European parliaments she suggested the setting up of Citizen Committees to bridge the perception gap. The European Ombudsman has now finished a consultation with interested groups on the level of public participation in, and the transparency of, the negotiations.  On the particularly contentious issue of the special courts to judge on disputes between companies and countries, known as ISDS, Malmström, who had previously been quoted as being against it equivocated: ‘Whether ISDS will stay in TTIP, I don’t know it is too early to say’. . The European trade union movement is in no doubt about the secret courts, as ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol  put it ‘why, in our democracies, do foreign investors need special protections. What is wrong with our courts?’. Nor is it a question of anti-Americanism; a joint statement with the U.S. trade union confederation AFL-CIO insists ‘the very existence of ISDS is anathema to democracy’.
The size of the very benefits claimed for TTIP by its supporters have also been doubted by European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) experts. According to one study the number of jobs likely to be created

Malmström, C.de Gucht, K.

under TTIP have been greatly exaggerated, the widely quoted figure of two million has apparently been taken from a paper whose detailed research actually suggested only 150,000 new posts in the EU and another 69,000 in the U.S.  Import tariffs had already been widely reduced by 1994 when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was formed, averaging 3.8%, hence the focus on non-tariff ‘barriers’ such as regulation and standards. By their nature it is hard to estimate the financial benefits of harmonising these, says the study. On a wider scale, another report estimates that trade between the U.S, and EU accounts for only 4.4% of World trade and has rapidly declined compared to East Asian countries in this century.
However, rather than simply opposing any deal, European trade unions, together with their American counterparts, are proposing ways in which it could be revised to benefit workers. A ‘gold standard’ deal is needed they say which should enshrine the right to strike and organise, protect the environment, maintain freedom of procurement by public bodies and be negotiated in a transparent way through the democratic process. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has previous experience: ‘past US trade agreements, like NAFTA, have helped boost the corporate bottom line, they have suppressed wages and workplace rights, shrinking the middle class in the US, Mexico and Canada’ he said ‘TTIP must work for the people, or it won’t work at all’.
National politics are also beginning to reverberate with the arguments around TTIP. A letter has been leaked from ministers in 14 Member States to new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisting that ISDS should be included in any deal while a bill from the U.K. Labour party which would exclude the National Health Service from TTIP succeeded in its first reading in the House of Commons. In the U.S.A. the new Republican majority in congress is thought to be less keen on the agreement compared to the Obama administration whose trade representative, Michael Froman, appeared to back the special courts during a recent forum: ‘It's hard to imagine a high standard agreement ... that does not have a high standard of investor protections as well’ he opined.

Union leaders Ségol and Trumka; Commissioner Malmström and her predecessor de Gucht

 

 

Bargaining round-up

THE NEW NORWEGIAN GOVERNMENT HAS RUN into trouble with plans to liberalise the country’s labour laws. Thousands of striking trade unionists from the LO federation gathered in the streets of Oslo and Trondheim to protest at the minister of labour’s intention to make it easier to for employers to take on temporary staff. Robert Eriksson insisted that, despite changes in legislation, ‘the main trend in Norwegian worklife will remain permanent employment’. However Tor-Arne Solbakken, LO vice-president, said ‘[The proposed laws] strengthen the power of company chiefs over their employees’. Jonas Gahr Støre, chairman of the opposition Labour party, which recently recorded its highest poll rating for 15 years, praised the demonstrators ‘Those standing out there say "yes" to permanent employment and "no" to short-term positions and job uncertainty’.
BULGARIAN MINERS HAVE WON A VICTORY after camping out underground for forty hours. Workers at the Cherno More pit did not emerge on the surface after the end of their night shift at 7 a.m. as they were owed 600,000 Bulgarian lev (£242,000). Rostislav Radukov, chairperson of the trade union of miners, said that his colleagues would not go out until their due salaries were paid. After two nights spent 300 metres underground, and the evacuation of two workers suffering from blood pressure problems, the National Electric Company sent 450,000 lev which was enough for the miners to call off their action.       
FINNAIR, THE NATIONAL AIRLINE OF FINLAND, is attempting to radically change its employment model through the use of outsourced labour. It has signed an agreement with a Norwegian company to recruit cabin crew from Hong Kong and Singapore on twenty of its routes. They will be paid at the salary levels of their home countries. At the same time it intends to invoke both temporary lay-off procedures and permanent redundancies to cut a large number of cabin staff including those who have been with the company a long time and have the highest pay. Matti Huutola, of trade union confederation SAK, said ‘Finnair is trampling on the rights of its workers and the state is following silently on the sidelines’ but the Finance Minister, a former trade unionist, has criticised the company: ‘I do not accept gimmicks with terms of employment. And this is just that’. The European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) has been in contact with the Prime Minister of Finland saying it is ready to campaign against the outsourcing.

 




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