UK – USA Trade Talks Update By The TUC

As the US puts pressure on the Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol and tells Johnson there will be no UK- US Trade Deal if they damage the Good Friday Agreement, we publish – with permission – the TUC position on what they expect from an trade deal between the UK and the US. Also it is worth noting that the Government have announced it is to open talks on a trade agreement with Mexico.

By Rosa Crawford TUC Policy Officer & Expert on International Trade Agreements – 11th May 2022

UK and US unions have jointly urged the International Trade Secretary in Aberdeen to involve unions in trade talks – to ensure trade deals promote good jobs, enforce workers’ rights and protect public services

Two weeks ago, the TUC, our US counterpart the AFL-CIO and unions in Scotland gathered in Aberdeen to discuss what a truly ‘worker-centred’ approach to trade should look like with the UK international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and US trade Ambassador Katherine Tai.

This was the sequel event to one that took place in Baltimore in March, which the TUC’s Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak attended and blogged about.

The UK government organised the Aberdeen event to continue a dialogue on trade with the US, even when prospects of full blown trade talks this year look very unlikely.

Ahead of the event, the TUC highlighted that if the UK government wants a closer relationship with the US, it should follow the US’ lead in including unions in trade negotiations.

In the US, trade unions are routinely consulted on trade negotiations – and they’ve had big wins, such as securing a strong enforcement mechanism for workers’ rights in the US-Mexico-Canada agreement. This allowed the US government to challenge union-busting in three companies in Mexico.

As a result, independent unions have now been elected at Tridonex, General Motors and Panasonic factories in Mexico.

In Aberdeen, the TUC raised concerns with international trade secretary Trevelyan that so far UK unions have been shut out of trade negotiations – despite the government promising that unions would be included.

As a result, none of the UK’s trade deals effectively enforce workers’ rights – and the UK has signed trade deals with countries that systematically abuse human and labour rights like Colombia and Turkey.

A few days later, MPs on the international trade select committee pressed Trevelyan to say why unions were not consulted on an equal basis to employers. Trevelyan said:

‘I want to see trade union membership on as many Trade Advisory Groups as possible. That is something we are working on at the moment.’

We’ll be holding her to this commitment.

In Aberdeen, we also raised concerns about the government’s suggestion that it would legislate for the ability to override the Northern Ireland protocol.

In recent days we have seen the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, threaten to scrap parts of the protocol entirely.

Unions in the UK and Ireland are concerned this would undermine the Good Friday Agreement – putting peace, good jobs and rights on the line. The US Trade Ambassador has also made clear the US would not sign a trade deal with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement was jeopardised in any way.

Other key issues raised in Aberdeen by unions was for the UK and US governments to work together to:

•ensure respect for workers’ rights in World Trade Organise rules

•develop laws to enforce workers’ rights in global supply chains, with legal penalties if abuses are found

•ensure adequate protections for workers’ data and all public services

•Support a Just Transition – this must include workers in carbon-intensive industries, like offshore oil, having their qualifications recognised in green industries like offshore wind and supporting the creation of more, good green jobs

After the Aberdeen talks, we were pleased to see the UK and US governments release a statement pledging to:

‘Work to develop more durable and inclusive trade policies that demonstrate that trade can be a force for good and create more opportunities for people and gender equity across the UK and U.S. Support the protection of labour rights and tackle forced labour globally…[and] green jobs and the growth of low-carbon economies.’

To honour these commitments, however, the government will need to change direction.

In the next few months, ministers plan to engage in trade talks with countries where governments are failing to respect fundamental labour rights, such as the Gulf States and Israel. It has also held three rounds of talks with India where there are widespread abuses of human and labour rights, including forced labour.

Unions will continue our dialogue with the government, and keep highlighting that a truly ‘worker centred’ approach to trade must mean the UK using its international leverage to support respect for fundamental workers and human rights.

Ensuring working people are around the table in trade talks is essential to achieving this.

This was originally published by the TUC

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FBU : White Paper is a threat to union rights

Below is a letter sent to all members of the Fire Brigades Union by General Secretary Matt Wrack to its members about the Government’s white paper on fire and rescue.

The Home Secretary and the Fire Minister for England yesterday launched their long anticipated White Paper on the fire and rescue service. While this applies directly only to services in England, it has much wider implications for all FBU members.

The White Paper is a consultation process to which responses are invited. The documents can be found on the government’s website.

The consultation on the White Paper will continue until 26 July. We will provide more detailed briefings and analysis on the content of the White Paper in the next couple of weeks. We will also discuss with FBU officials through the Executive Council the responses of the FBU to the questions raised. The following are, therefore, initial comments only.

Anti-union agenda
It is disappointing to see again that government ministers appear to have listened to the one sided and anti-union agenda of the former Chief Inspector, Tom Winsor and a number of disgruntled Chief Fire Officers. The White Paper criticises the long-standing arrangements for industrial relations (the NJC, opening the door to a possible attack on our rights.

As we have explained previously, Mr Winsor, during his time at the inspectorate (HMICFRS), devoted much of his time to attacking the FBU, rather than looking with any seriousness at what might actually be wrong in the fire and rescue service.  It is ridiculous that anyone should even attempt to analyse the FRS without seriously taking account of the views and experience of those on the frontline. Sadly, that is precisely what has happened under Mr Winsor.

The agenda of certain Chief Fire Officers, supported by the NFCC, is to create a situation whereby firefighters can have their roles and responsibilities changed unilaterally and without negotiation. They wish to be able to order firefighters to undertake any work identified by the Chief Fire Officer without question or challenge; the dangers of this will be obvious to all.

The FBU, as expressed through our conference, has determined over several years that we are willing to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the service and of our members. We have also been clear that any such change must be delivered by negotiation and agreement. Ironically, the main obstacles to progress on this have been a number of Chief Fire Officers and government ministers. Chief Fire Officers have often sought to force firefighters to undertake additional work without any consideration of additional pay or reward.  In turn, for more than a decade, government ministers have repeatedly avoided the questions posed by the FBU and the fire service employers, seeking clarification on the roles expected of our service by central government.

 The White Paper clearly poses a significant challenge to our service and to our rights as workers. We will provide further comment and analysis shortly.

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NZ government moves to introduce industry-wide bargaining

Michael Wood New Zealand Workplace Relations Minsister

Forwarded to CTUF by Barry Camfield.

New Zealand’s Labour Government led by Jacinda Adhern has introduced legislation to enable occupational and industry-wide bargaining where unions can demonstrate worker support, or it passes a public interest test.

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood this week introduced the Fair Pay Agreements Bill into Parliament, delivering on a Labour campaign pledge at the 2020 election (see Related Article).

New Zealand’s IR system only permits collective bargaining at an enterprise level, between individual employers and unions.

The UK Labour Partyhas picked up the NZ model; Australian Congress of Trade Unions supported the bill but the Australian Labour Party  has so far resisted the union push for industry-wide bargaining (see Related Article).

The NZ Bill’s explanatory note says its labour market has some strengths but “systemic weaknesses”, which include a “significant prevalence of jobs with inadequate working conditions, low wages, and low labour productivity”.

For example, Maori, Pacific peoples, young people, and people with disabilities are over-represented in jobs where low pay, job security, health and safety, and upskilling are significant issues.”

“Barriers to good labour market outcomes are particularly prevalent for people who fall within more than one of those groups.

“The Bill will help address these issues.”

The legislation enables an eligible union to initiate bargaining for a Fair Pay Agreement if it meets either a representation test of at least 1000 employees or 10% of the employees in proposed coverage, or a public interest test based on specified criteria such as low pay, limited bargaining power, or lack of pay progression.

The chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment will assess applications based on either test and can request further evidence and information from the initiating union if required.

The Bill creates a framework for bargaining for Fair Pay Agreements by:

  • setting out a general duty of good faith, and good faith obligations that apply to bargaining parties (within the same bargaining side and between bargaining sides);
  • ·        prescribing processes for initiating bargaining (including when a default bargaining party may be required), carrying out bargaining, and finalising a fair pay agreement;
  • ·        introducing dispute resolution processes to settle issues that may arise during bargaining for a Fair Pay Agreement; and
  • ·         giving effect to regulation-making powers in Fair Pay Agreements.

Once a Fair Pay Agreement is struck, it will apply to all employees in an industry or occupation with a prohibition on employers seeking to sidestep the FPA by engaging workers as an independent contractor.

However, Clause 123 permits a Fair Pay Agreement to include terms that apply differently in different districts in New Zealand, with an employee covered by the terms that apply in the district where they work for the majority of the time.

Minister Wood in a statement said workers in critical roles like cleaners and bus drivers, had long lacked bargaining power to seek better wages and conditions.

“We want to turn that around and ensure workers get a fair go again.”

“We acknowledge that a balanced approach is needed and have designed FPAs to enable unions and employer associations to bargain together to set minimum standards for all employees and employers in an industry or occupation.

“These negotiated, sector-specific minimum standards can take into account the costs and opportunities businesses have while ensuring more workers receive higher wages and better employment terms and conditions.

“FPAs will be a long-term, stable framework with Agreements being for 3-5 years, meaning that employer associations and unions can identify the most critical issues in their sector and then negotiate a staged approach to making improvements across the sector or occupational group.

“These changes will help employers by stopping the race to the bottom we’ve seen in various industries and encourage competition that isn’t based on low wages but on better products, services, and innovation.”

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff argued that employer groups opposed the legislation because it would lift wages.

“FPAs set a minimum standard for pay and conditions in an industry,” Wagstaff said.

“They still allow people to have their own employment conditions and pay, but they help lift the floor in an industry.”

But the Opposition National Party said it “stridently” opposed the Bill, arguing it would reduce flexibility and harm New Zealand’s economy.

The party’s workplace relations spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, said the Bill is an “ideological overreach, deliberately going to war with employers at a time when we’re facing huge economic challenges” that would move towards “rigid national awards”.

“It’s another example of this government’s belief that central government knows best – better than employees and employers trying to arrange things for themselves in a way that works for them.

“Flexible labour markets are one of the foundations of our relative economic success in the past few decades.

“This Bill undermines that foundation and will harm our economy and our national competitiveness.”

The NZ employers body BusinessNZ has confirmed that it will not accept the legislation’s payments of $250,000 a year for supporting compulsory bargaining in major sectors of the economy.

Chief executive Kirk Hope says the FPA scheme was “unacceptable” and the legislation should be “canned”.

“The scheme would make it compulsory for businesses to take part in collective bargaining, and compulsory for them to accept union demands or imposed arbitration,” he said.

Employers have argued previously the “compulsory” nature of the Fair Pay Agreements are illegal under the ILO principles signed up to by previous Labour governments and currently illegal under domestic bargaining frameworks.

The Employers & Manufacturers Association said the legislation is a “step backwards to National Compulsory Awards” that removes the flexibility needed in the modern workplace.

EMA head of advocacy and strategy, Alan McDonald, said it is a return to a “centralised, antagonistic wage bargaining system that failed workers and their employers in the 1970s and 80s and was done away with in the 1990s”.

McDonald said members of the BusinessNZ network had already ruled out being the bargaining agent for employers.

“The fact the CTU is the Government’s bargaining agent of choice also shuts out all the other non-affiliated unions from the bargaining process and ignores the fact around 80% of the workforce is not associated with unions.”

The government expects the legislation to pass all stages this year after going through a full select committee process.


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CTUF Backs RMT & Nautilus International In P&O (DP World) Dispute

The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom backs RMT and Nautilus International in their dispute with P&O (DP World)

Members and supporters of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom will have seen the news that P&O has disgracefully sacked hundreds of UK seafarers with no notice or consultation.

The mass sackings of workers have received widespread condemnation from The TUC, UK and international unions, the Labour Party, the legal profession and some employers.

There has been massive coverage in the media yesterday and today of the events and reports that “handcuff compliant” security guards, aka as thugs, have been engaged to clear the vessels of officers and ratings who are occupying the ships in response to the sackings.

Tory ministers have appeared on the media saying that they are ‘appalled’ and the sackings are ‘unacceptable’ – however, they are also saying that the decision is a ‘commercial decision’.

P&O say they are facing financial difficulties yet the Dubai-based DP World, paid shareholders a £240 million dividend at the end of 2020 and P&O reported an 11% jump in revenue last year.

The 2022 European Golf Tour was renamed the DP World tour‚ with the company contributing £147 million to the prize money.

What’s more P&O furloughed more than 1,400 employees during the pandemic to the tune of £10million.

So, after UK taxpayers subsidised the business to keep it alive, P&O has now axed the jobs of 800 people in the face of the deepest cost-of-living crisis in generations. The actions o DP World and P&O are pure greed.

The protest is at 4pm today (Friday) at DP World, 16 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JQ

If you are able, please attend this demonstration. Nearest tube/bus/train – Victoria.

RMT, the union for ratings, is staging an emergency demonstration against the sackings at the office of P&O parent company DP World in Westminster this afternoon.

The protest is at 4pm today (Friday) at DP World, 16 Palace Street, London, SW1E 5JQ

If you are able, please attend this demonstration. Nearest tube/bus/train – Victoria.

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