||Issue No. 190||08 August 2003|
Interview: The New Deal
Unions: In the Line of Hire
Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
International: The Domino Effect
Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Poetry: Just Move On.
Review: Reality Bites
The Locker Room
The Fifth Column
Labour Rights Threaten Trade Deal
ACTU president Sharan Burrow has revealed that the ACTU has been providing the US Labour Department with information about the situation for Australian workers via the peak US union body the AFL-CIO.
The issue of labour rights is critical because the US Congress has passed laws requiring that labour standards be incorporated in all trade agreements.
Burrow says Australia's problem is that with no legal guarantee for collective bargaining, Australia will have real difficult meeting this legal threshold.
"We have been working through the AFL_CIO to give the US Government an understanding of Australia's labour laws," Burrow says. "We have been doing this because it is our view that our government has not been giving the US the full story."
"There is no question that people are shocked when you tell them that Australian labour laws do not guarantee collective bargaining. In the context of the bilateral trade talks it means we are really in the weaker position when it comes to labour rights."
While the ACTU is opposing a raft of aspects of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, including limits to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and bans on local content in cultural industries, Burrow says there is support for trade and investment based on decent standards.
Burrow also warned that the US Congress would give the trade deal far greater scrutiny than the Australian Parliament.
"It's a sad day when Bush Administration will have a debate on the trade agreement with Australia debated in its Congress, but Australia will have one minister to sign off with no parliamentary scrutiny," she says.
Burrow will brief the media on the trade talks with senior AFL-CIO official Linda Chavez-Thompson in the lead-in to the upcoming ACTU Congress.
While the Free Trade-Fair Trade debate was contentious at the 2000 Congress and hotly debated at the following ALP National Conference, Burrow says the debate has moved on.
"There is general acceptance within the broad labour movement now that labour standards, along with human rights and environmental safeguards, need to be a part of all trade agreements.
"What has changed is that we are now dealing with an array of bilateral treaties, as well as the continuing multilateral trade agreement through the Doha Round of trade talks," Burrow says.
Significantly, NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson says he would be inclined to back a policy that placed worker rights at the centre of trade negotiations.
At the last Congress, Robertson's predecessor Michael Costa opposed the 'Fair Trade' agenda pushed by the AMWU's Doug Cameron and other left unions.
"Forcing labour standards into trade agreements is one way to give Australian workers a fighting chance in a global economy," Robertson says.
"It's important that unions unite on this issue and really put the acid on the Howard Government to stand up for Australian workers."
Click here to read the full trade policy: http://www.actu.asn.au/congress2003/draftpolicies/tradepolicy.html
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