Labour groups talk work standards with Freeland ahead of NAFTA renegotiation

TORONTO — Labour groups made their final pitches Tuesday to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the importance of including higher labour standards in a revised NAFTA deal.

In her last meeting before travelling to Washington to start NAFTA renegotiation talks on Wednesday, Freeland met in Toronto with a group of about two dozen representatives from labour organizations.

“Canada is really committed to working hard to make this agreement more progressive and we see some real opportunities to do that, particularly in the labour chapter,” Freeland told the group ahead of their closed-door talk.

Labour representatives who were inside the meeting said they’re hoping a new NAFTA agreement will mean higher wages and better conditions for workers in Mexico and parts of the United States.

“Hopefully they can address some of the irritants we’ve seen over the last 20 years,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

He said the labour portion of the first NAFTA agreement hasn’t been effective in raising labour standards and wages in certain areas of Canada’s southern neighbours. Increasing protections would not only benefit workers, but would also make Canada more attractive to businesses in comparison, he added.

“Of course, we’re not going to compete in an unfair process, whereas they use lower labour standards and the fact they don’t enforce their laws as a way of course to attract investment,” he said.

Setting standards and ensuring a new agreement has a clear enforcement process will help level the playing field in all three countries, the labour reps said.

“There were commitments made in the last time we negotiated NAFTA that a labour-side agreement was going to help lift standards. That hasn’t happened,” said Angelo DiCaro, Unifor National Research Representative.

“We can have the best language in the world on labour standards, but if there isn’t a mechanism to uphold it, to make sure it’s being enforced, it’s not worth as much.”

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