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TISA: the end of workers’ rights and public services

Barry Finnegan looks into a trade deal that plans to sign away countries’ resources, rights and democratic processes.

There’s a tsunami of anti-democratic trade and investment agreements engulfing the world, sweeping aside hard won democratic gains: the deal between the EU and Canada (CETA), the EU and US (TTIP), the US and Pacific countries (TPP), China and ASEAN countries (RECP). But TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement, is the biggest one of all.

TISA is an international trade agreement being negotiated in private by the EU and 22 other governments.

It covers trade in all services, including but not limited to: health care, child care, social services, education, postal, waste and water services, regulatory disciplines concerning transparency, domestic regulation, state-owned enterprises, telecommunication services, computer-related services, e-commerce, cross-border data transfers, financial services, postal and courier services, international maritime transport services, and government procurement for services and subsidies.

The EU mandate under which the Commission is negotiating TISA clearly states: “EU and Member States’ laws, regulations and requirements regarding work and labour conditions shall continue to apply”, but in the same paragraph, it says, “provided that, in doing so, they do not nullify or impair the benefits accruing from the agreement”.

The impact of this is that TISA reclassifies migrant workers as “service suppliers” and therefore labour laws and access to the labour courts will be denied to migrant workers. As the European Trade Union Confederation comments, TISA will lead to “exploitative labour relations for migrants and [will] put pressure on local wages and working conditions”.

Global trade unions have taken an anti-TISA stance, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions last July passed a strongly worded motion rejecting not only TISA, but TTIP and CETA as well, calling for negotiations to be stopped and the deals to be scrapped.

Let’s take the example of water services: In the 15 years to March 2015, across 37 countries, a total of 235 water systems were taken back off private companies after failed privatisations led to undrinkable, unaffordable water. 94 of these ‘remuncipalisations’ were in France, with 58 cases in the US. The purpose of TISA is to stop this process and to provide for “improved market access” and the “elimination of discriminatory measures” – in other words, to end government monopolies of public services, to enforce the privatisation of any service for which a fee is charged or in which the private sector is involved, and to make it illegal to reverse privatisation.

As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled, and research by the ETUC shows, if any fee is charged for a service, or any private company provides a similar service, then it is not protected by EU rules and must be liberalised.

This self-appointed group of countries creating TISA call themselves the Really Good Friends of Services and have chosen to negotiate TISA outside the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade system because many poorer, and all BRIC countries, refused to further liberalise their services. The plan, as per the declassified EU mandate, is to fold TISA back into the WTO by incorporating it into the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This means that upon completion, poor countries will be under pressure to sign up to a services liberalisation deal they had no part in negotiating.

Any government, representing a private company, which has a problem with a country refusing to privatise a service, or insisting on high quality for a privatised service, or blocking price rises, can sue the government concerned, not in a court of law, neither Irish nor European, but at the private WTO “dispute settlement mechanism”. Additionally, they intend on keeping the text of the deal secret for five years after it is finalised.

Some of the other aspects of TISA, based on leaks posted to WikiLeaks, are the planned corporate ability to challenge governments’ net neutrality rules, obligations to use open source code and publish source code, and any limitations on cross-border data flows of private information.

The leaked text of TISA can be found at: www.wikileaks.org/tisa

Barry Finnegan is a research with ATTAC (Ireland), and a co-facilitator with the TTIP Information Network.

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