EU Wants Mexico Deal To Reflect CETA

Celia Malmstrom wants to model the updated Mexico FTA on EU- Canada deal CETA .

Celia Malmstrom wants to model the updated Mexico FTA on EU- Canada deal CETA .

Sent in by Ben Davis of the USW.

From Industrial Minerals – bElizabeth Machuca and Sara Lewis

Negotiations are underway to revamp the existing free trade agreement between Mexico and the European Union in a deal that will replace that signed in 2000, at a time when the EU has expanded significantly and Mexican production of talc, bentonite and kaolin, among other minerals, is surging.

Mexico has commenced negotiations with the European Union (EU) that could boost the Central American nation’s production and export of barite (barytes), quartz, granite and silica sand.

On average, two thirds Mexico’s deposits of these minerals remain unexploited, according to the country’s mining officials.

The talks, which started on 12 June during the 7 th EU-Mexico Summit in Brussels, set benchmarks for negotiations to upgrade a 15-year old free trade agreement (FTA) by tackling non-tariff barriers, extending intellectual property rights to more products and revising investor protection provisions.

“This is the first time that the EU will amend an existing agreement,” said Francisco de Rosenzweig, undersecretary of foreign trade of the Mexican ministry of economy, referring to the incumbent Economic Partnership, Political Coordination and Cooperation Agreement that came into force in October 2000.

“The negotiations will take place during the rest of this year and the first quarter of 2016 and will allow Mexico to reach eastern European economies that became part of the EU in recent years. Afterwards, the results will be presented before the parties and put to consideration for approval,” de Rosenzweig told IM.

According to the ministry’s general coordinator of mining, Mario Cantu Suarez, Mexico lacks the machinery, technology and human resources to explore, identify and quantify its mineral resources. These could be provided by a revised cooperation memorandum included in an updated deal.

“We need to find bigger deposits in order to make commercial prices of non-metallic minerals competitive,” he said.

“We have located some [mineral] beds of considerable size in the centre of the country, really close to the capital and in the neighbouring states of Puebla and Veracruz, but Mexico sometimes lacks the resources to explore the sites and separate those minerals from the rock – something in which some European nations are specialised.”

Unlocking potential

Mexico is currently the eighth largest producer of barite in the world, according to Mexican government officials.

The potential for cooperation with European mineral companies is clear. For instance, agreements have been struck with Spanish companies to extract silica sand from deposits located in the Hidalgo state.

However, Mexico’s exporting costs for industrial and non-metallic minerals are still far from competitive due to transportation fees, which, according to the Mexican ministry of economy, impose $20/tonne in expenses.

“Considering the minerals are carried in ships that have 60,000-70,000 tonnes of capacity, it’s an expensive price, to which you also have to add the 7.5% mineral royalty. But finding bigger beds would compensate for these costs,” said Cantu.

The industrial minerals industry in Mexico has nonetheless reported significant production growth, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). In 2012, there was a major increase in talc production, which has surged 804% year-on-year, in addition to significant increases in fuller’s earth, or calcium bentonite (which increased by 111%), kaolin (up 35.6%), gypsum (up 31.8%), andwollastonite (16.2% higher than in 2011). Cantu suggests these increases, on top of small base numbers, will continue.

 Figures provided by the Mexican government show this growth trend has also been registered in its trade with the EU, with an increment in fluorspar trading numbers (worth $51.5m in 2013 and $61.2m in 2014), and bismuth ($11.4m in 2013 to %18.1m the next year). Non-metallic minerals account for around 30% of all mineral exports to the EU, while the rest involve metallurgic products.

 Time for a revamp

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has been pushing the revamp of the deal, announcing her plans on 11th May at a Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPs) conference entitled Upgrading the EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement, which the Mexican Secretary of Economy (minister) Ildelfonso Guajardo also attended.

Malmstrom wants to model the updated FTA on the Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement (CETA), which the EU struck with Canada last year and is pending ratification, as well as the planned EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The update is especially needed, given 13 member states have joined the EU since 2000 and industries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have been calling for the FTA to be expanded further than simply lifting tariff barriers.

The EU nevertheless views the existing FTA as a success-story and mineral products trade flows have been healthy. However, Mexican mineral exporters gained slightly more than their European counterparts through the agreement, according to a study into the effects of the trade pact by BBVA Compass Consulting and Benefits, which was unveiled at the CEPS conference. The study showed that “mineral products” were among the 10 economic sectors enjoying the largest positive impact on EU exports.

The rise in trade perhaps comes as no surprise, given that the FTA agreement includes a “cooperation on mining” clause in which both parties pledge to promote cooperation in “exploration, exploitation and profitable use of minerals”, as well as exchanging information, experience, experts and technology. The clause also allows for joint research, technological development and investment.

Moreover, the agreement’s focus on lifting tariff barriers means the two partners now apply zero tariffs to most mineral imports from each other, apart from a few exceptions, where the levies are nevertheless extremely low.

Although Mexico retains restrictions on foreign direct investment, which the EU wants to tackle in the new agreement, the FTA eased the way for Mexican multinationals to establish in Europe both in the EU and neighbouring countries.

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Court denies equal rights to Palestinian workers in Israeli industrial zone

Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel’s National Labor Court rejected an appeal by Palestinian workers from the Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone recently, ruling that they will continue to be subject to the Jordanian labor laws of 1967, rather than Israeli laws.

The three appellants — Abdel Hamid Yahiye, Ahmed Shayib and Mujhad Harsha — sued their former employers in Tel Aviv’s Regional Labor Court in 2010 after they were fired for demanding retroactive payment from their employer. The regional court rejected the suit, and the three — with the help of Attorney Ehud Shiloni and the workers’ rights group, WAC-MAAN — appealed to the National Labor Court.

In a two-page ruling, the judges of the National Labor Court established that the industrial zone, which borders Tulkarem, is not part of an Israeli settlement, but rather is located in “no-man’s land” and was established to promote “economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, and the employment of Palestinians.”

The ruling allows the state to discriminate against Palestinians in three ways: first vis-a-vis their peers and superiors at the factory; once vis-a-vis the Palestinian workers in nearby Tulkarem, who are subject to Palestinian labor laws; and once vis-a-vis workers in Jordan, whose labor laws are far more progressive than the ones established in 1967. The only workers who will continue to be subject to the old, draconian Jordanian laws are the Palestinian workers of the industrial zone.

According to the judges, the workers’ contracts clearly state that they will be subject to the Jordanian law, and that Israeli workers in the factory work in maintenance and security — positions that “cannot be compared to those of the appellants.”

The old Jordanian laws do not require employers to pay pensions, nor does they force employers to compensate workers for sick leave after the third day of absence, while providing only minimal vacation days and low severance packages.

In 2007 Israel’s High Court ruled, after 40 years of military rule in the occupied territories, that Israel’s labor laws will apply to Palestinians who work in the settlements. In the “Givat Ze’ev” ruling, the nine justices decided unanimously that because the employers and the workers never formally agreed which labor laws they will follow; and because the settlements constitute “legal enclaves” of Israeli law; and because the labor laws were written in Hebrew, taxes are paid to Israel, the currency is Israeli and Israeli laborers work alongside Palestinian ones under Israeli law — Palestinians can no longer be employed under Jordanian law. According to the National Labor Court’s ruling, however, the situation in Nitzanei Shalom is inherently different than that of Givat Ze’ev’s.

What is ‘consent,’ after all?

The National Labor Court’s ruling is nothing less than infuriating. The judges speak of “cooperation” that resembles nothing of the sort. Like Idan Landau wrote in an article on Nitzanei Shalom last year [Hebrew], only Israelis are allowed to open factories there, while Palestinians fill the role of the laborers.

The judges further noted that “the sides consented to the validity of Jordanian law.” As if Palestinian workers, who cannot find work in Tulkarem or obtain work permits in Israel or the settlements, are in a position in which they can negotiate and “consent” to something different than what the Israeli employer dictates.

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

 

After all, the entire idea underlying labor laws is to enshrine the basic rights to which every worker is entitled, without his or her ability to negotiate or consent.

These conditions are not up for discussion. A worker cannot consent to work for below minimum wage or give up on sick days — these are the protections the state affords him/her. But in Nitzanei Shalom (“Buds of Peace” in Hebrew), the judges allow the workers to “choose” one law — worse than any other law — which does not apply anywhere else.

All this despite the fact that Nitzanei Shalom is guarded by the Israeli army, pays taxes to Israel, and abides by the Israeli fire code. If the Palestinian workers there commit a crime, they are tried according to Israeli law in an Israeli court.

“The decision of the court leaves the Palestinian workers in the Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone in a legal limbo,” said WAC-MAAN head Assaf Adiv of the decision. “The Israeli labor courts do not provide them with any assistance, and there are no courts that will rule according to Jordanian law.”

Rubber-stamping the occupation

People will often claim that there is no “occupation,” and that this land is ours because we inherited it from our forefathers, or because we won the war, etc. But stories like this one remind us that, above all, that the occupation is about human beings.

Human beings who live under a military regime and who are subject to one set of rules, while the Chosen People living across the street are subject to a different set of laws. Human beings who cannot vote for the bodies and authorities that rule them,cannot take part in planning and building their own villages or towns, people who are tried in courts that do not represent them. The occupation is also an economic enterprise that has prevented Palestinian economic development for nearly 50 years, and which produces workers who can be exploited in horrible conditions, whether in the settlements, Israel proper or in twilight zones such as Nitzanei Shalom.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. 

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Public meeting: resisting the trade union bill

UnknownSent in by Cathy Cross of PCS.

Just 2 weeks after the publication of the trade union bill 2015, trade unions, MPs and labour movement organisations are coming together at a public meeting on 29th July to review the legislation and decide how to resist.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka is among the speakers at the meeting organised by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) together with theCampaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) at the NUT in London.

Mark will be joined by representatives from the TUC, FBU, RMT, Unite and IER experts John Hendy and Keith Ewing, together with MPs and others to determine what steps the labour movement needs to take to expose the unfair and undemocratic nature of the government’s proposals.

Mark said of the bill: “It is rank hypocrisy to introduce arbitrary restrictions on union ballots that will not apply to MPs, MEPs, councillors and police commissioners, and they will have no legitimacy when they scrape through parliament on a wafer thin majority.

“We have repeatedly asked ministers to work with us to make it easier for people to vote in workplaces and using technology, and they have refused. This is not just an attack on trade unions, it is an attack on society as a whole, as we know that weaker unions mean greater inequality.”

Blatant attack

Carolyn Jones, director of the IER said: “This is a blatant attack on the rights of workers and the freedoms of trade unions. The proposals on strike action will impose impossible thresholds for the majority of trade unions under our archaic, over restrictive and increasingly expensive balloting procedures. And for what? People increasingly understand that it is the government’s austerity-led cuts that are undermining our public services not trade union action. Yet here we have a government elected by less than 25% of the electorate imposing voting thresholds on trade unions that have already been declared in breach of international law. The ideology behind these proposals needs to be exposed and the government plans resisted.”

Time and venue: 6pm at Mander Hall, NUT, Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9BD.

Speakers include:

  • Len McCluskey, Unite
  • Sarah Veale, TUC
  • Mick Cash, RMT
  • Dave Green, FBU
  • Dave Ward, CWU
  • Carolyn Jones, IER
  • John McDonnell, MP
  • Heather Wakefield, Unison
  • Jacky Davis, Keep Our NHS Public.

Find out more on the Campaign for Union Freedom website.

Join the campaign on Twitter: #killthebill

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Education and Irish Unions Oppose Trade Deals

stop-ttip-generic-fbOpposition to the new generation of trade deals is growing with opposition at the Education International Congress where the NASUWT (from the UK) alongside IFUT, AFT and Argentina FE Trade union spoke in support of a UCU (UK) resolution opposing TTIP, CETA & TiSA. This was passed unanimously a and is now EI policy an organisation representing 32 million education workers across the world.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has adopted a resolution of outright opposition to TTIP (not just a halt to negotiations), and also to CETA and TiSA. Another national trade union confederation has therefore come out 100% against TTIP, which is important in light of the Europe-wide position to be taken at the ETUC Congress in Paris this September.

The final text of the ICTU resolution, as amended, is below:

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
Conference is extremely concerned about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Free Trade Treaty, a wide-ranging trade deal giving unprecedented power and influence to transnational corporations that would become the benchmark for all future trade agreements, currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA and recognises the threat posed. While there may be economic benefits in reducing trade tariffs and reviewing regulation for certain industrial sectors, Conference believes that the primary purpose of TTIP is to extend corporate investor rights.

Despite assurances offered by the EU Commission that TTIP will not restrict the right of governments to regulate, the fact is that TTIP will severely restrict the ability of governments to regulate. It does this in two ways, firstly TTIP creates a right for companies to launch a suit for financial compensation if a government introduces a rule or regulation and that rule or regulation has a negative impact on the company’s profit, or expected profit. The inclusion of this provision in TTIP will achieve exactly the same outcome as an explicit restriction because of the chilling effect that will be created by the threat of financial consequences, often amounting to billions that will ensue. The result is that elected governments will be unable to afford to regulate.

Closely linked to this threat is the widespread concern that the company will be enabled to make their claim against the state in private arbitration – the investor state dispute settlement or ISDS. The idea of secret private courts is unacceptable and in all likelihood unconstitutional. But simply amending TTIP to require companies to launch their claim for compensation in ordinary courts is not the solution. Companies should not be able to launch claims for compensation for indirect expropriation at all, not in private ISDS and not in a court of law. There is no justification for providing companies with such excessive enhanced protection. Citizens and workers do not have the benefit of similar protections.
Conference remains unconvinced by official claims of job creation arising out of TTIP, and considers that the dangers to public services, workers’ rights and environmental standards outweigh any potential benefits. Conference remains unconvinced about the likelihood of a binding labour rights chapter based on ILO Core Conventions.
Conference has similar concerns over current negotiations for the proposed Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).

Conference believes that on the current path we will be presented with a fait accompli in the form of an inadequate, unacceptable agreement that we have had no chance of influencing or amending and where time will make it difficult to mobilise opposition.

Conference therefore resolves that the trade union movement should now call for the TTIP negotiations to be halted and adopt a clear position of outright opposition to TTIP, and other trade agreements currently being negotiated. Conference calls on the trade union movement to make it clear that workers will never accept any trade agreement that doesn’t promote decent jobs and growth and safeguard labour, consumer, environmental and health and safety standards. Conference calls for the continuation of lobbying, campaigning and negotiating on these matters, in alliance with the ETUC and AFLCIO and other civil society organisations with similar views.

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Global Solidarity Trumps The Donald

Napoleon Gomez, the head of Mexico's metals and mining union, Los Mineros

Napoleon Gomez, the head of Mexico’s metals and mining union, Los Mineros

By Napoleon Gomez, President of the Los Minero’s Union, Mexico

As a proud citizen of Mexico, I find Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants racist and offensive.

But as a trade union leader who has spent a lot of time in the United States, I understand how Trump’s arguments resonate with industrial workers.

American manufacturing has been devastated by so-called “free trade” agreements, by illegally-subsidized Chinese steel and tires dumped into the U.S. market, and by countries deliberately manipulating their currency values to underprice their exports.

Steel and auto workers who once made a decent living can no longer do so. Even worse, America’s young people are paid less than their parents earned. And the government has done little to help them.

This, however, is not the fault of the desperate Mexicans who Donald Trump maligned.

The Mexican government is committed to keeping wages low. Mexican laws allow companies to sign contracts with phony unions to prevent their workers from properly organizing to secure higher wages. The dirty deals between phony unions and corporations are known as “protection contracts” because they protect the company in its mission to underpay workers. Corrupt labor boards buttress this system.

The few democratic unions like the one I lead — the National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers — have been viciously attacked. Our members have been killed, jailed and harassed. I had to leave Mexico because my family was threatened.

Twenty years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, manufacturing workers in Mexico make less than one-fifth what U.S. workers do. That discrepancy spurs some Mexicans to go north to seek better opportunities in the United States.

Corporations do the opposite. The low wages in Mexico lure corporations to move factories south. Just this month, Ford announced it would transfer production of two car lines out of Michigan, probably to Mexico — just as contract talks between the United Auto Workers and American automakers were scheduled to begin. Ford said it won’t shutter the Michigan plant, but just the threat of closing enables corporations to extract concessions from workers.

Let’s be clear — the overwhelming majority of my fellow Mexicans are decent, hardworking people who are trying to support their families. They have far more in common with American workers than either of us does with a billionaire like Trump.

Together, American and Mexican workers must reject racist, inflammatory and divisive rhetoric from any quarter. Destructive stereotypes only weaken the position of all workers as they seek better lives.

Together we also must take a common position against China and other countries that are dumping illegally-subsidized steel and other products into both the United States and Mexico at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs.

Most important, we must stand together to demand that Mexico reform its corrupt labor boards and change its laws to allow workers to organize and increase their wages -before it gets more access to U.S. markets under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

This is not a fantasy. In the past 10 years, my union has doubled the take-home wages of our members, despite massive attacks. Our members have a shot at joining the middle class. Their kids will do even better.

That means they won’t be migrating to the U.S.

They will be buying products made by American as well as Mexican workers.

And while our members will still compete with U.S. workers, it will be a fairer competition based on our skills and productivity, not artificially low wages.

If this could happen across Mexico, it would take a lot of the pressure off American workers, and Mexican workers would be significantly better off.

There are signs that it could be accomplished. In March, tens of thousands of Mexican farm workers who harvest fresh produce for the U.S. market went on strike and won promises of higher wages, social security benefits and overtime pay.

If we allow fear and hatred to divide us, we will continue racing against each other to the bottom. But if we stand up and fight back together — against bigotry and racism and for higher wages and better opportunities for our children — I believe we will all see a better future together.

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Trade Union Bill Rally. More Speakers Added!

CTUF Meeting Ad2

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CTUF at Tolpuddle 2015.

CTUF banner at the Village Hall, Tolpuddle. Photo Adrian Weir Studios.

CTUF banner at the Village Hall, Tolpuddle. Photo Adrian Weir Studios.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka addressing packed meeting at Tolpuddle. Photo: Mike Hedges Photography.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka addressing packed meeting at Tolpuddle. Photo: Mike Hedges Photography.

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Silent On Results: Auto Firms Shift Away From TTIP Study They Financed

Car-robots-manufacture.doc-150x150.jpgFrom Inside U.S. Trade. Sent in by Ben Davis of the USW.

Auto company lobbyists on either side of the Atlantic appear to have all but abandoned hope that a year-long, industry-financed study will provide sufficient evidence to sway regulators in support of their claim that U.S. and EU auto safety rules are effectively equivalent, and are now pinning their hopes on other research initiatives.

Even before releasing the results of the study, carried out jointly by the University of Michigan Transport Research Institute (UMTRI) and a number of European partner institutes, U.S. and EU industry officials are signaling privately the study’s outcome is much more complex than they anticipated and does not offer the clear-cut evidence they were hoping for.

One industry official this week contended that the results of study, which were presented to European Union negotiators during this week’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) round, had demonstrated the “severe data constraints” that exist and the need to do more work to try and compare safety outcomes.

Publicly, industry officials have put a much better face on the research, characterizing the data available to experts in both the U.S. and EU as “rich.”

Still, they have yet to announce the results to the public. A July 15 joint presentation by the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), Auto Alliance, and European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association at a TTIP stakeholder forum in Brussels was mum on the results of the study. Instead, they focused heavily on a new Peterson Institute study claiming that regulatory harmonization in the auto sector could boost trade in autos by 20 percent and yield $20 billion in annual income gains (Inside U.S. Trade, July 1).

Matt Blunt, president of AAPC, said in a July 16 interview with Inside U.S. Trade that UMTRI and its partners deserved credit for the “historic effort that was made to try and bridge the substantial differences between the U.S. and European data sets.” But he also signaled that the industry was now shifting its focus to new studies that are being financed directly by the European Commission.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for some of the projects that have been completed,” he said, pointing to the two EU-financed case studies on U.S. and EU regulations regarding seat belt anchors and on things like lighting and mirrors. He said both those studies have “a lot of validity and could really be a path forward to beginning to recognize each other’s standards and the fact that European and American vehicles achieve similar safety outcomes.”

Those studies were carried by the United Kingdom-based TRL, an independent research institute. Mike McCarthy, a senior TRL researcher, told Inside U.S. Trade in an email the group has been engaged by the European Commission to conduct a third study on vehicle crashworthiness that will be completed soon. UMTRI is also helping with that research.

One of the biggest data-related challenges that the UMTRI study confronted was that the most detailed data came from four, relatively rich western European countries, which the researchers recognized might not be as representative of southern and eastern European countries.

To get a fuller picture, the researchers took data from the four countries and then — using a less-detailed, EU-wide data set called the Community Road Accident Database — “weighted” them to make them more reflective of the European population. This aspect of the study drew heavy scrutiny from the industry (Inside U.S. Trade, May 8).

Blunt said that the U.S. industry had not yet presented the results of the UMTRI study to U.S. negotiators or regulators but would do so soon. Asked whether he feared that a lack of definitiveness in the results would undermine the industry’s argument U.S. and EU safety rules offer similar results, Blunt would only say he feels both the U.S. and EU are committed to a “high value agreement” in the auto sector.

 In parallel to the TTIP, U.S. and EU auto safety regulators — along with their counterparts in Japan — have also begun to explore how to revive long-stalled efforts to increase regulatory harmonization in the auto sector through a multilateral forum called “Working Party 29″ based in Geneva and established by what is known as the 1998 Agreement.

In a “Trilateral White Paper” submitted by the U.S., EU and Japan during a June 23-26 meeting of the working party, the countries identify what they say are a number of shortcomings that have hampered the ability of parties to harmonize auto safety, security and emissions regulations through the adoption of what are known as Global Technical Regulations (GTRs).

These include a mismatch between Working Party 29’s agenda and the priorities of members, resource constraints that made it difficult to do necessary research or make regulatory changes, and an incompatibility between the domestic rule-making systems and the GTR adoption process.

On the latter issue, the three countries suggest that parties “reflect on measures” that could make their domestic procedures more in line with the objective of improving the adoption of GTRs.

How that would work in practice is uncertain. The 1998 Agreement mandates only that countries who vote in favor of a GTR initiate the domestic legal procedures necessary to transpose a GTR into domestic law. In the U.S., this typically means that auto regulators are obligated to propose the GTR in a “notice of proposed rulemaking.” That triggers a comment period during which interested parties submit comments to the proposal, including proposed revisions. These comments can result in the measure being revised, which creates conflict with the original GTR.

Daniel P. Malone, an attorney with the Detroit-based law firm Butzel Long, who specializes in automotive regulatory affairs, posited in an interview that one way to improve the overall rulemaking system would be for U.S. regulators to make more frequent use of “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” during the drafting period of a GTR. Doing so could reduce the likelihood of returning to Working Party 29 and proposing revisions shortly after any attempted transposition of a GTR into U.S. law.

Officials at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the European Commission could not be reached for an interview prior to press time.

The White Paper was touted in the joint auto industry presentation in Brussels as providing a “unique opportunity” to improve the GTR adoption process. But what it will ultimately lead to is still unclear. A Geneva source said that the countries are continuing to receive feedback from other parties to the 1998 Agreement; it is slated to be discussed next in November.

Blunt, in the interview, stressed that while supportive of bolstering the Working Party 29 process, the industry does not want that to be a substitute for progress in TTIP. “We’re hopeful that the WP29 process can be improved,” he said. “We’ve always believed very strongly that you need both a strong TTIP outcome on harmonization and an improved WP29 process.”

But the AAPC president added that it remains to be seen what will eventually emerge out of TTIP, and that regulators are still in the stage of exploring which options are feasible. He said that negotiators are predicting they can wrap up the TTIP talks over the span of the next 18 months — a timeline that Blunt said was “ambitious” considering the scale of the issues that need confronting, the amount of necessary research and analysis, and the pace of U.S. trade negotiations in the past. — Ben Hancock

 Inside U.S. Trade – 07/17/2015 , Vol. 33, No. 28

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#killthebill : The Trade Union Bill In Full

Trade_Union_BillThis week the Conservative Government presented its Trade Union Bill before Parliament.

The legislation itself is just over 30 pages long but it reads like a catalogue of limitations to trade union freedoms and civil liberties, amounting to the greatest attack on working people in 30 years.

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#killthebill : Trade Union Bill Points To The Eclipse Of Democracy And The Rule Of Law

Professor Keith Ewing

Professor Keith Ewing

KEITH EWING on why Britain’s lurch to the right must be fought – and not just in court

 There is probably little left to say about the politics of the Trade Union Bill that has not already been said.

Since its publication on Wednesday, the response to the Bill has been overwhelming and the condemnation profound.

It is a brutal measure that will dominate the discussions and debates this weekend at Tolpuddle, as thousands of trade unionists assemble to commemorate the courage of the Martyrs.

Clearly part of a strategy to reduce incomes and promote inequality, the Bill comes on the back of the destruction of employment rights by the coalition government, and the announcement at the weekend that the Tories are negotiating an opt–out from the EU Social Chapter.

But apart from irresponsibly playing to the politics of mutual loathing, the bigger picture here is the eclipse of democracy and the rule of law in modern Western societies.

The Greek people saw their democratic wishes trampled upon by the troika.

The British people have seen what has been in effect an extreme right-wing coup d’etat by the ballot box.

This is a government of doubtful democratic legitimacy: it may have won a majority of seats in the House of Commons, but it won the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote, and the votes of less than two-fifths of those actually voting.

We should never, ever forget that this is a government that speaks for less than one in four people (the 24 per cent).

Having won power by dubious means, the Tories are now set on maintaining power by even more dubious means, stripping away the voices of opposition, in order to maintain an illegitimate grip on the state.

On the back of the Gagging Bill designed to eliminate electoral opposition, we are now witnessing a politically motivated attack on the BBC, the inconvenient purveyor of balanced journalism; the malicious and potentially fatal wounding of the Labour Party, by cutting off its supply of income; and a further blow against trade unions.

The requirement that trade union members should “contract in” to pay the political levy will change the current system, whereby everyone pays in accordance with the democratic wishes of the union, unless they “contract out.”

The Bill effectively changes the default position.

Under the existing law trade unions must ballot every 10 years for authority to maintain a political fund.

Once the authority is obtained by a majority vote, the presumption is that everyone is bound by the wishes of the majority; under the Bill the default position is that no-one will be bound by the wishes of the majority.

We have been here before.

The 24 per cent carry the loathsome torch of the General Strike Tories, who in 1927 also moved to crush the trade union political voice.

The General Strike gave them the opportunity to demand reparations that had been long in the preparation, including the move from “contracting out” to “contracting in.”

The then Tory Minister of Labour was honest about Tory ambitions, writing in 1924 in a secret Cabinet memo that “the major part of the outcry against the political levy is not motivated by a burning indignation for the trade unionist, who is forced to subscribe to the furtherance of political principles which he abhors.

“It is based on a desire to hit the Socialist party through their pocket … we should not delude ourselves as to our intentions.”

We can at least admire the candour.

The hawks — led by Churchill — nevertheless got their way and the law was changed, until it was changed back by the Attlee government in 1946.

Fresh proposals to restore “contracting in” were considered by the Thatcher government in 1984.

The Cabinet records reveal that the idea was vetoed by Thatcher herself for fear of its impact on the democratic process, and in particular its implications for the Labour Party.

Such is the measure of the extremism of the 24 per cent that they should so airily dismiss what even Thatcher understood about liberal democracy.

As was recognised by Thatcher, a move to “contracting in” would “create great unease and should not be entered into lightly.”

But the attack on democracy that the threat to the political levy represents is not the only cause for “great unease.”

If we are living in an increasingly post-democratic age of which the Trade Union Bill is a symptom, we are also living in an age in which the rule of law is treated with contempt.

Governments no longer feel a desire to be burdened by legal restraints, while also no longer feeling a desire to enable workers to enforce what limited rights they have been left with.

So just as the Trade Union Bill reflects the power of the 24 per cent, so it reflects the willingness of government to play fast and loose with its legal obligations.

These legal obligations include international treaties, which the British government was failing to comply with even before the Trade Union Bill was published.

The treaties include ILO Convention 87 and the Council of Europe Social Charter of 1961.

The latter was the first international treaty to recognise the right to strike, which the British government (ironically a Tory government) was the first to ratify.

The importance of these treaties is not to be underestimated.

The Labour government’s Constitutional Reform Act 2005 refers to the “constitutional principle of the rule of law.”

According to one of the most celebrated British judges of modern times (Lord Bingham), this means that the state “must comply with its obligations under international law.”

The father-in-law of a prominent Tory MP, Lord Bingham did not think this “proposition to be contentious.”

Nor would many lawyers, though it is one which this Tory government has an extraordinary difficulty in accepting.

Earlier this year, the European Social Rights Committee found that the UK was in breach of 10 obligations in the Social Charter, including the right to strike, which was said to be “excessively limited.”

That was before the Trade Union Bill’s additional restrictions, with minimum turnout requirements, minimum ballot thresholds, two-week notice periods, additional reporting obligations, fresh restraints on picketing, and so on.

It is inconceivable that these additional burdens will not add to the litany of violation.

The government claims that the new restrictions are fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

That remains to be seen as unions consult their lawyers with a view to challenging these various measures in the European Court of Human Rights, if of course Mr Gove continues to allow such challenges to be made.

But even if such a claim were to succeed (and it is not implausible), litigation will take years, well past the next general election.

In the meantime, our democracy (or what is left of it) will be dominated by the 24 per cent, unless something or someone stirs the sleepwalking 76 per cent.

  • Keith Ewing is professor of public law at King’s College, London, and president of the Institute of Employment Rights and President of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom
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Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | 3 Comments