TISA: Another trade deal, another alphabet soup we refuse to swallow

Debates about trade agreements can seem boring for workers. But they affect us, and they matter, and with the avalanche of these things piling up now, we had better get our heads out of the sand and start lobbing rockets back.

On July 2, the ITF issued this news release on one of the latest deals — the Trade in Services Agreement, otherwise known as TISA. Like so many other trade deals, TISA is being “negotiated” behind closed doors. The public, the stakeholders, even your bog-standard legislator is not entitled to see it or to take part is shaping it.

But the good folks at WikiLeaks concluded people are entitled to know what’s being arranged by their representatives, and so they posted it on their website. Parties to TISA include Canada, the US, the EU, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and many others. In all, 51 countries scattered around the world are at the table.

The ITF has had a look at the transportation provisions of the deal and has found, among other things, disturbing proposals that would affect seafarers’ wages and conditions. TISA proposes that the ILO Minimum Standards contained in the Maritime Labor Convention – 2006 be the maximum international standard for the world’s seafarers. Further, where it was negotiated “openly and transparently”, parties could agree to terms and conditions lower than the Maritime Labour Convention.

That’s very bad news. Many of our brothers and sisters have long been worried about the Maritime Labour Convention, convinced that the guaranteed minimums it lays out would eventually be the maximums. If this interpretation of the TISA maritime provisions is correct, it means that seafarers’ unions would be blocked from negotiating higher collective agreements on internationally trading vessels.

This is extremely worrisome. It is through the mechanism of collective agreements on the world’s Flag of Convenience fleets that the ITF derives much of its influence and muscle.

At the last meeting of the ITF’s maritime governance group (known as the Fair Practices Committee), the ITF and its affiliates agreed to increase our campaign against these phony trade agreements. The ITF has agreed to move our cabotage working group up to Task Force status — meaning that we will be able to commit significant resources to our campaigns to fight back and to assist maritime affiliates in their respective national campaigns.

More on this, and on the trade deals that threaten Canadian seafarers, later. For now, please make sure you check out the links contained in this story to better understand what TISA is — and the links to the Maritime Labour Convention synopsis.

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