European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo credit: European Parliament, Creative Commons
EU Parliament votes for public service protections and labour rights in TiSA report
On Wednesday the European Parliament passed with an overwhelming majority a report on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) that called for broad exemptions for public services and respect for labour standards. TiSA is a trade deal on services the EU is negotiating along with 22 other countries.
While the report is not ‘binding’ (as in, it has no technical sway over negotiations), it sends an important signal to the European Commission which is negotiating the agreement on behalf of EU states that it needs to change course on TiSA to prioritise public welfare over private investors’ interests.
The TUC is opposed to the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), most fundamentally because its objective is not promoting trade but rather increasing corporate access and influence and promoting liberalisation of public services and deregulation.
These concerns are being expressed by unions across Europe too, with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) stating that if such public services, labour rights, regulations and democratic decision making are not clearly protected in TiSA, the deal should be rejected.
Important aspects of the European Parliament report include:
Currently TiSA contains inadequate exemptions for public services which would leave many part-privatised services vulnerable to further liberalisation. Any future government challenging this liberalisation would be likely to be challenged by another TiSA country for breaching the agreement.
It is important, therefore, that the European Parliament report calls for a broad carve out for public services including water, health, social services, social security systems and education, waste management and public transport and to:
‘ensure that EU, national and local authorities retain the full right to introduce, adopt, maintain or repeal any measures with regard to the commissioning, organisation, funding and provision of public services.’
It also called on the Commission to reject the so called ‘ratchet’ mechanisms that lock in liberalisation and called for ‘enough flexibility to bring services of general economic interest back into public control’.
A joint statement by ETUC, Social Platform, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP) and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) welcomed the exclusion of public services in the report, stating its:
‘“gold standard” clause would considerably strengthen the protection of quality, accessible and affordable public services in EU trade agreements. The European Commission should now commit to changing its approach to public services not only in TiSA, but also in TTIP and future trade agreements.’
Currently TiSA contains no commitment to uphold core labour rights or even an attempt to reference them in a ‘sustainable development’ chapter, as the EU has done for TTIP.
The European Parliament report calls for ‘the eight fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions are ratified and effectively implemented by TiSA parties.’
The report also states that countries must ensure that workers brought to other TiSA countries by foreign companies through the agreement (through what is called ‘Mode 4’ arrangements) must ‘enjoy the same labour rights as nationals in their host country and that the principle of equal pay for equal work is respected.’
The report calls for the ‘highest level of transparency, dialogue and accountability’ from the European Commission and for ‘serious and continuous engagement of the EU institutions with all relevant stakeholders throughout the negotiation process’.
This would be welcome development from the current state of affairs currently where unions in most TiSA countries have no access to their countries’ negotiating texts and have to depend on leaks to find out what their country is negotiating in their name. While the EU’s proposal for the core text and services on TiSA is now public, there is very little information about the content of the TiSA negotiating rounds and even less attempt to meaningfully consult trade unions and civil society about the content of the deal.
Now the European Parliament has made it’s requirements for TiSA clear, we need the European Commission to take on these commitments in its negotiations – and other trade agreements like TTIP and CETA which pose similar threats to public services and democratic decision making.
Judith Kirton-Darling MEP, Socialist and Democrats group co-ordinator for the report who called for the above elements to be incorporated into the report, as well as others, said of the vote on Wednesday:
“Trade in services is vital for the EU and the current rules are grossly outdated, as there was virtually no internet trade when the last deal was agreed back in 1995. The status quo is therefore not an option: we absolutely need reform, but this must not be at the expense of workers’ rights or of our public services… With today’s vote, we’re giving a new mandate to the Commission. If it fails to respect it, then the European Parliament will have to consider rejecting the final outcome.”