Canada pushes inclusion of strong, progressive labour standards in NAFTA – Politics

Canada is pushing for the inclusion of enforceable, progressive labour standards in a rewritten North American Free Trade Agreement, aimed at compelling Mexico to pay workers higher wages and do away with so-called “yellow” unions that represent employers rather than employees.

Canada’s proposed chapter on labour standards also calls for an end to right-to-work laws in the United States, whereby workers in 28 states have the right to refuse to join or pay dues to a union while enjoying all the benefits of a unionized workplace. Labour leaders contend such laws are essentially aimed at starving the unions of cash and weakening their ability to represent the interests of their members.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland boasted Monday that Canada has “put forward the strongest, most progressive labour provisions ever put forward by Canadian trade negotiators.”

And union leaders who’ve been consulted on the proposal say that’s no exaggeration.

“She’s absolutely correct,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview. “The Canadian proposals are very aggressive and progressive.”

Auto sector concerns

One of the biggest concerns of both Canada and the U.S. is the exodus of quality jobs and investment, particularly in the automotive sector, to Mexico, where the minimum wage is less than $1 per hour.

Canada’s proposal does not suggest any specific minimum wage should be set, Dias said. It focuses more generally on the principles of improved working conditions, fair compensation, gender equality and the right to collective bargaining.

Unifor president Jerry Dias takes part in a labour rally during NAFTA talks in Mexico City Sept. 1, 2017. The labour movement is laying out its ideas for a new North American Free Trade Agreement that would benefit workers. (Alexander Panetta/The Canadian Press)

Angella MacEwen, senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, said the proposal reflects the International Labour Organization’s declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work.

“There isn’t an internationally accepted minimum wage but there are internationally accepted standards around discrimination of workers, around hours of work, around health and safety — at least that this has to be taken into consideration, that you have to have some protection for workers,” she said.

While there’s no specific minimum wage proposed, MacEwen said: “In general, we think that if you have higher labour standards and you make those…

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