Trade pact threatens workers’ rights, MTUC warns govt

The announcement of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in Santiago, Chile, in 2018. (AFP pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) today urged Putrajaya against ratifying the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), saying it threatens workers’ rights and puts jobs at risk.

MTUC secretary-general J Solomon said trade unions in other countries have found that the pact only benefits major corporations and does not have mechanisms to monitor compliance with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) conventions.

He said the CPTPP gives member countries leeway to remove legislation on workers’ rights and welfare, under the pretence of reducing tariff barriers and championing free trade.

“Furthermore, the CPTPP labour chapter also narrows the number of claims that can be taken against signatories for abuses of workers’ rights, as it says violations must be ‘in a manner affecting trade’.

J Solomon

“Similar agreements in other parts of the world show that, almost always, no action is taken against perpetrators of such abuses,” he said in a statement today.

Solomon said Senior Minister for Economy Mohamed Azmin Ali had not disputed the Economic Planning Unit’s findings that joining the CPTPP would see Malaysia’s trade balance dropping by RM9.6 billion per annum.

“Malaysia’s imports would spike by RM10 billion against an increase of RM516 million in exports.

“Azmin has not presented a convincing case that would suggest it is in the interests of our workers, our economy and our society to join the CPTPP,” he said.

Solomon said the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) under the CPTPP allows foreign investors to take governments to court for actions that might threaten their profitability.

“Similar mechanisms were used in the past to challenge minimum wage laws as well as other rules that affect workers, such as those on health and safety.”

He said the ISDS provision seriously threatens the welfare of Malaysian workers as large corporations could dismiss any change of policy that improves workers’ rights as unfair.

He said the trade pact would see job losses in some sectors because of an increase in imports from member countries, forcing retrenched workers to go for low-paying jobs in the informal sector.

“We are also concerned that the CPTPP would open up public procurement markets, restricting the government’s ability to support local businesses that recognise trade unions or pay living wages,” he said.

Azmin and former finance minister Lim Guan Eng were engaged in an argument in the Dewan Rakyat recently over the pact, after the former claimed the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government had agreed to ratify it.

Lim objected, saying the PH Cabinet had not agreed to the ratification as “we did not want foreigners to interfere” in Malaysia’s trade policies. This was followed by a heated argument between the two.

Solomon maintained that MTUC was not interested in the political tiff between the current and former administrations, but said there were enough reasons why Putrajaya should not ratify the CPTPP.

“Political spats between the previous and present government should not negate the facts and truth about the heavy price Malaysians will pay if Putrajaya agrees to endorse the ratification of the CPTPP,” he said.