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TPP Poses Serious Threat To Rights And Dignity Of Migrant Workers

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BILL MORNEAU
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The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), negotiated in secret, has been facing massive public opposition.

In opposing the TPP, some have incorrectly argued that the TPP will pit migrant workers against Canadian workers. In fact, this trade agreement will greatly harm migrant workers. It will do so in two key ways.

First, TPP will result in lower protections, wages and working conditions for workers primarily in the poorer countries that are signatories to the TPP. This will force many of them to move from rural areas to urban areas, and then to migrate out of their countries for basic opportunities.

Second, when those low-waged and racialized migrant workers arrive in Canada, they will largely do so through the temporary foreign workers program, without permanent status, and be tied to their employers and excluded from basic protections. At the same time, they will face a miseducated public who has been incorrectly led to believe that migrant workers are taking Canadians jobs.

The TPP is an agreement between 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam. While touted as a free trade agreement, it is in fact the opposite.

"It's called free trade, but that's just a joke," according to MIT Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky. "These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what's leaked about the TPP indicates that it's not about trade at all, it's about investor rights."

Only six of the 30 chapters of the TPP are about trade at all.

In fact, as many have argued, 97 per cent of Canada's exports to these 12 countries are already duty free, or tariff free, which is the key barrier trade agreements are supposed to remove. Only six of the 30 chapters of the TPP are about trade at all.

To understand what TPP may do, consider NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), signed between the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1994. As a result of NAFTA, article 27 of the Mexican constitution was cancelled. This section of the constitution protected collectively owned Indigenous lands from being privatized. Once cancelled, Indigenous lands faced mass privatizations and hundreds of thousands of people were pushed out of their communities. For example, Indigenous people made up seven per cent of Mexican migrants in 1991 to 1993 in California, the years just before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2006 to 2008, they made up 29 per cent -- four times more. The TPP will do that at much greater scale

The TPP entrenches ISDS (investor state dispute settlement), which allows corporations to sue countries if environmental or other protections result in loss of corporate profit. Of the 77 known NAFTA investor-state claims, 35 have been against Canada, 22 have targeted Mexico and 20 have targeted the U.S. While Canada has been sued more, as a country with five times Mexico's GDP, the impacts in Canada are bad but proportionally lower than those felt in Mexico.

One of the reasons Mexico is sued less is because Mexican authorities have swiftly downgraded environmental policies before they can be sued. This has downgraded working conditions, wages and the ecology of large regions, forcing out-migration and the creation of migrant workers. The same can be expected from the TPP.

lululemon
Canadian retailer Lululemon threatened to leave Canada over foreign worker rules.

The limited analysis of the TPP and migrant work available has focused on the labour chapter in the agreement itself, rather than analyzing the TPP in the context of the entire immigration system. The labour chapter of the TPP largely pertains to ease of access for short-term and high-waged workers coming or leaving from Canada.

These provisions are already in place, and under the Trudeau government are being expanded. Just last week, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced plans to waive short-term work permits for high-waged workers who would be in Canada for less than 30 days and announced the creation of a fast-track system to waive Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) for select companies.

This announcement came within days of Lululemon threatening to leave Canada if its demands weren't met. The TPP will not result in any massive access for high-waged foreign workers -- those pathways already exist.

Indefensibly, some in opposing the TPP have called for greater use of LMIAs. The LMIA process' stated purpose is to ensure that corporations have made efforts to find Canadian citizens or permanent residents before hiring non-citizen workers. This might seem appropriate in principle, but it goes against basic economics and fairness.

Tied permits debilitate migrant worker human rights causing immense suffering.

For LMIAs to work, workers must not be able to change jobs, in effect, be tied to their work and their employers. The idea of labour mobility -- or being able to switch jobs that make you sick, or make you feel unsafe, or make you unhappy -- is a basic right. Not allowing it to be so creates a system of indentured servitude that gives employers immense advantage and control to abuse workers without facing sanction.

When coupled with limited or absent labour protections, lack of permanent residency and institutional racisms, tied permits debilitate migrant worker human rights causing immense suffering. Lack of labour mobility also skews the jobs market and reduces wages across the system.

If the opposition to migrant workers is that they are "foreign" and "not from here," then that's simply racism. But if the opposition is because it reduces work protections and wages, untying workers and giving them permanent residency rights will immediately correct for that as workers will leave bad jobs allowing the market to adjust.

Incorrectly suggesting that the TPP should be opposed because it will mean greater numbers of migrant workers is a form of dog-whistle politics that further entrenches the dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in Canada and continues to grow.

We should instead oppose the TPP because it will impoverish and displace some of the poorest in the world and take away their rights to decency and dignity. We should insist on solidarity amongst workers everywhere -- in Canada, or in the Global South or those from the Global South in Canada. Not only is this morally right, it is the only strategy at our disposal if we are to protect ourselves and the generations to come.

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