The TUC issues warning over post-Brexit trade deals

"A government that readily deals with countries that abuse rights abroad won't stick up for rights at home either."

29 Jun 2022| News

On Tuesday, the TUC gave an exclusive interview with the Guardian. It claims that ministers have pushing for post-Brexit trade deals with over a dozen countries that do not guarantee workers’ rights or systematically violate employee protections.

To secure trade deals, the TUC said ministers were in active talks with 13 countries with a worrying record on employment rights, including Brazil, Burundi, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. 

It comes at a time when legislation proposals are coming out of Parliament, placing even more restrictions on trade unions. Professor Keith Ewing, President of the Institute of Employment Rights, examined these “attacks on the right to strike” in his article. Professor Ewing outlines the three proposals that the Government are considering against unions, this includes:

  • Allowing employers to hire agency workers to act as strike-breakers
  • Minimum-service level agreements during strikes
  • Raising the damages threshold for unlawful industrial action to £1 million in the case of unions with over 100,000 members

According to a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the global umbrella group for unions, the sackings at P&O Ferries, where 800 workers were fired without notice or consultation, were one of the most clearest examples of labour abuses in the world.

With no help from the government, unions filed a complaint in May to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). They argued that the UK government’s failure to enforce relevant labour laws and enact punitive sanctions to ensure compliance seriously violates the ILO’s principles concerning the freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The TUC said that “a government that readily agrees deals with countries that abuse rights abroad is one that won’t stick up for rights at home either”. It called on ministers to stop attacking fundamental trade union rights and to make good on its promises to improve workplace protections.

The Government had promised 18 months ago that union representatives would have a place on powerful post-Brexit trade advisory groups – panels set up to be consulted on the text of trade negotiations – but had so far failed to confirm any appointments. Currently only businesses have seats on the groups.

The TUC said the continued failure to properly consult unions in trade talks was leaving workers around the world worse off, with ministers agreeing deals lacking any enforceable labour standards.

Out of the 67 non-EU countries the government has negotiated trade deals with, as many as five are listed in the 10 “worst countries in the world for workers” according to an index published by the ITUC, including Turkey, Colombia and Egypt.

As many as 10 are placed in the 44 countries with no guarantee of workers’ rights, including Ecuador and Jordan, while eight are among the 38 nations where there is “systematic violation of workers’ rights”, including Australia and Vietnam.

Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary of the TUC, said: 

“Ministers are in talks with a dozen countries which are some of the worst offenders when it comes to workers’ rights. This will fuel a race to the bottom on rights.

A government that readily agrees deals with countries that abuse rights abroad is one that won’t stick up for rights at home either. Instead of treating trade agreements as publicity tools, the government should be using its leverage on the global stage to ensure respect for fundamental workers’ rights.”