Fair, sustainable and social: UNI Europa’s view on EU trade policies

Thursday 23 November 2017

Yesterday, Regional Secretary, Oliver Roethig, was invited to speak at an event to recognise Trade Policy Day at the European Parliament.

Sitting on a panel with Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Trade, and representatives from the WTO, World Economic Forum and top universities, Roethig gave the perspective of trade unions. He stated that “trade policies and trade agreements should foremost improve the living and working conditions of people substantially. We want an approach that is fair, sustainable and social as well as ensures competitiveness through quality rather than through social dumping.”

Roethig also explained that trade policy should protect the European social model by being aligned to the twenty principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was proclaimed in Gothenburg on 17th November. He emphasised that, as the biggest trading power, the EU has also a responsibility to make trade work for other countries, their citizens and workers.

Having a fair trade policy is also key for gaining the trust of European citizens. As TTIP showed, citizens do care and they have concerns on the fairness of the EU’s trade policies and whether it serves citizens or only companies. We should see how trade policy can be used to tackle abuse of workers’ rights by governments, local companies and MNCs.

Roethig made the following key points on the social dimension of a trade policy and trade agreements:

  • Agreements must be without prejudice to the EU’s social acquis and to European social provisions enshrined in the EU Treaties (TFEU, Titles IX and X). Service providers must be obliged to respect social and labour law as well as collective agreements applicable in the host country.
  • Agreements must protect and indeed strengthen social and labour rights, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Any FTAs must include a comprehensive and progressive labour chapter.
  • Such rights should be explicitly guaranteed and enforced by the agreement, and effective remedies both on an inter-government basis and for social partners and civil society, should be sought out.
  • The ratification of ILO standards and protocols should also include higher standards such as occupational health and safety, decent living wages and working hours.
  • Trade unions and civil society should not only be fully involved in the negotiations, but they should also be involved in the implementation of a FTA. It should empower social partners and civil society organisations to participate and monitor all labour-related activities of the signatories of a free trade agreement. An FTA should also lead to a comprehensive social dialogue structure of the social partners in the countries involved.
  • FTAs should be used for the capacity building of social partners, especially in the context of the global supply chain and digitalisation.
  • It is essential to be ambitious and innovative: we need to use FTAs to promote best practices in terms of social and labour rights, such as the creation of world works councils.
  • FTAs must aim at achieving a high degree of regulatory coherence without impinging on the democratically legitimised powers of public authorities to (re)regulate or legislate, for example to they should address the detrimental effects of liberalisation or protect social, consumer and environmental rights.
  • Investor disputes must be dealt with by the ordinary court system; the rule of law already exists so there is no reason for separate system. UNI Europa is strongly of the view that any existing ISDS mechanisms bypassing the court system of the EU and member states must be abolished; this applies in particular to ISDSs between individual EU member states.

Roethig concluded by stating that the Commission must take the lead, together with the European Parliament, member states and social partners, to develop a fair trade policy in the social and labour field.

You can see the programme from the event here.