||Issue No. 228||09 July 2004|
Thai-ed in Knots
Interview: Power and the Passion
Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Housing: Home Truths
International: Boycott Busters
Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Review: Chewing the Fat
Poetry: Dear John
The Locker Room
Libs have Got To Go
A Boring Bastard
A Home Of Their Own
Thai-ed in Knots
While the pointy heads are patting themselves on the back for ripping down another tariff wall, some are wondering whether a few details may have been lost in translation.
Read the fine print of this deal and you'll find no recognition of core labour standards - that is, no guarantee that goods 'freely traded' should not be produced by slave labour, child labour or by workers denied the right to organise and bargain collectively.
The result? Well in markets where Australian workers are competing with Thai workers, there will be no contest - after all, how can Australian companies match competitors paying their workers just $4.60 per day.
Those advocating Fair Trade are not denying the reality that some nations have lower wage structures; but they do argue that workers in developing nations need basic labour rights if there is to be any benefit derived from free trade and any prospect of a genuine contest.
Indeed, if trade treaties were to force companies in developing countries to provide these core labour standards in order to access overseas' markets, then an argument could be made that free trade does deliver for workers.
But as Thai textile worker, Noi Phongkhwa in Sydney this week to promote Oxfam-CAA's Play Fair at the Olympics campaign, told a public lecture this week, this is just not happening.
Instead, the plight for Thai workers who 'benefit' from global trade include being fed amphetamines in order to work fast enough to meet unreasonable quotas
That Australia's Olympic Committee refuses to meet with Noi is a disgrace; that Australian athletes will be competing in sweatshop gear is a national shame; and that this is the product of free trade makes a joke of our beaming leader shaking hands for the cameras.
Bi-lateral treaties are the ostrich approach to trade, with sweet heart deals the substitute for the harder work of establishing a fair global economy that delivers for all its players.
The irony underlying the Thai trade deal is that even the South-east Asian workers undercutting Australian jobs face the prospect of being priced out of the market within a few years as the Chinese economy enters the global economy, where worker shave even lower base wages and fewer rights.
Indeed, the role of China in the global economy is the great unknown that those striking bilateral trade deals are choosing to ignore, hoping it will go away.
Anyone who thinks that bi-lateral trade agreements will deal with this Mac Truck of an issue is kidding themselves; just like anyone who thinks unilateral military action can deliver global security or that the global environment doesn't need global treaties.
Special deals that focus solely on economics and ignore moral issues as irrelevant are wrought with long-term dangers. The Thai Trade Deal is a very sharp edge of a very thin wedge.
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