TTIP – a proposed free trade agreement between the EU and the US. Up until now negotiations have been held mainly in secret until last year, when a draft copy of a document was leaked. In principle, TTIP is intended to remove multi-level regulation currently in place for trade between Europe and the US The Agreement will cover such areas as health and safety, privacy, the environment, and property rights amongst others. It is also expected that the provision of education, postal services, energy and water will all be opened up to US companies. It is also considered a real possibility that if TTIP becomes a reality, it will mean for example that a US company could sue a European government if it felt it was being treated unfairly, and as such would be entitled to financial compensation. In fact this is now a reality in that Philip Morris has sued the Uruguay and Australian governments re their anti-smoking legislation and a Swedish energy company has taken legal action against Germany for phasing out its nuclear power programme. In terms of challenging a company’s claim for compensation, a Tribunal judges on the matter. But again, presumably under the guise of confidentiality, the Tribunal is held in secret, and there is no right of appeal as to its decision. In this respect, it can be genuinely argued that international corporations are taking over the world.

As such, this is little more than an extension of the World Trade Agreement in support of the concept of an economic free trade globalised world as perceived and driven by the US. However, it must be said that the present Tory government is claiming that it has reached an understanding that the NHS will not be subject to any such conditions under TTIP. However, such a claim must be taken with caution. For example, will this understanding simply apply to doctors and nurses, and not to the ancillary workers that constitute part of the NHS. Here I refer to the porters and office staff that are to the best of my knowledge, still employed by the NHS.

Given these examples it will in my opinion also increase the ability of private corporations not only to sue member states over windfall taxes or exceptional profits, but the use of taxation as a policy instrument. This in effect will undermine any government considering a Keynsian approach to their economy. Such criteria will also apply to trade unions if it could be shown that a labour dispute has a detrimental impact on a company’s profits. Such a dilemma now faces many trade unionists if for example they take unofficial action. In effect, if an individual can be identified as leading an unofficial action, they can be sued by a private company for compensation for loss of trade. Given such a possible scenario it is a real possibility that worker’s rights could also come under attack if a company for example could show that a European Directive such as the Working Time Directive was directly having an adverse effect on their profits. Here what must also be taken into consideration is the decline in trade union membership, and the increasing reliance on European Directives to protect workers’ rights.

Here whilst it can be shown that there has been a slight increase in trade union membership in the UK, in the expanding private sector, trade union membership has now declined to 13.9%. In the Public Sector, whilst membership is higher, it only accounts for 54.8% of those employed. Interestingly, those employed in professional occupations are more likely to belong to a trade union, and today such workers account for 37% of all trade union members. The only bright side to such statistics is that women today now constitute 55% of trade union membership, up from 45% in 1995.

However, discussions concerning TTIP now continue, but the secrecy remains. Here, although MEPs are now allowed access to the TTIP documents that cover the secret trade talks under discussion, under the rules of confidentiality, they can only have access to the papers, and only allowed to take with them a pencil and paper. No electronic devices including laptops and phones are permitted. As to the matters under discussion, given the involvement of the US, workers’ rights will certainly have been discussed. As such, this could mean the demise of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the protection for Agency and Part-time workers, as well as a possible end of the Working Time Directive. Here, given that trade union membership, especially within the private sector is only 13.9%, the consequences for the other 87% of the private sector workers could be dire to say the very least. Therefore, we need to ensure that not only workers, but the population in general, know not only what is going on behind their backs, but the consequences that workers will face if we do nothing. In this respect, and in respect of the local Labour Party, I am looking for ideas as to how we not only get TTIP into the public arena, but what should be the content of a local Labour Party leaflet that we can distribute. Also should we include any information that is available with regard to CETA, or would that complicate an already complex situation.

Richard Nicholls