Transatlantic Economic Council Meeting with Co-Chairs

Washington, 27/10/2009

The European Trade Union Confederation welcomes this invitation to submit our views to the Transatlantic Economic Council.

This is the first occasion on which we, together with the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations, de facto the Transatlantic Labour Dialogue, have been invited to participate in this process.

We hope that our involvement will be formalised at the EU-US Summit in Washington on 3 November, so that trade unions of Europe and the United States are given equal footing with the business side.

This is also the first time that the TEC meets, co-chaired by a progressive US Administration. We have hopes that the agenda will reflect that fact.

It also meets, for our generation, at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil. So it cannot be business as usual.

A wider and more strategic agenda

We want the TEC’s work to become more strategic, and more responsive to the views and preoccupations of all stakeholders.

The agenda of today’s meeting includes a discussion, albeit informal, of how to get out of the global crisis; encouraging balanced growth; and the future of the TEC. That is to be welcomed. We hope that these discussions will be translated into concrete points for discussion with us.

Dealing with the crisis

The current economic and financial crisis is, of course, our first preoccupation. And, whatever talk of “green shoots” there may be, recovery for us will only be underway when the unemployment figures go down and decent jobs return. It’s too early to talk about exit strategies, particularly those that leave the banks off the hook.

The financial crisis was born in the USA, but Europe helped in the midwifery to expand it into a global disaster. This needs to be fixed jointly. And the workers, who were not part of the problem, should not now be those who carry the can.

Between them, the US and EU areas cover a significant proportion of the G20 GNP. The TEC needs to address G20 outcomes from an Atlantic perspective. My colleagues from the AFL-CIO will be saying more about this.

I would just pick up one point from the Pittsburgh G20, to do with the international regulation of the financial markets. We think it significant that it agreed to work on an international framework that could include a financial transactions tax to help make sure that the financial sector pays a fairer share towards economic recovery and development. However the IMF has been given responsibility for examining this. We think that the EU and US must give a positive lead through joint innovative work.

The transatlantic market

This leads me to comment on proposals we have heard over the years to create a barrier-free transatlantic market. We believe that there are some important problems inherent in this concept, especially when it comes to financial services and capital markets.

Without rehashing the events of the past year, such a market would have made things even worse, reinforcing both the volatility and the short-term bias of capital markets while raising additional important questions concerning corporate regulation and governance. These questions need to be addressed now.

In addition, our countries have a broader responsibility in the global context and need to be committed to wider interests of development in the world. This is especially true given the threats to multilateralism as many nations look increasingly inward. A barrier-free transatlantic market would undermine further the multilateral approach aimed at development and social progress for all that we favour.

Bilateral trade with third parties}}

A specific point relates to the proliferation of bilateral trade agreements worldwide. This trend cannot be ignored. In this context, EU and US should promote agreements that favour development and, from a specifically trade union point of view, help sustain and develop freedom of association and rights to bargain collectively and prevent discrimination at work as well as forced and child labour, among other fundamental human rights.

Such provisions do appear in both EU and US bilateral and regional relations agreements. The approaches, however, have been different. We would welcome joint work to compare, contrast and align them with best practice with a view to reinforcing common objectives.

Regulation and social policy

The TEC agenda today covers regulatory approaches. We have not been involved in the ongoing work and so cannot comment on the specific issues arising. We would only say that stepping up regulatory cooperation can be useful to remove administrative and technical barriers. However, differences in regulation do not just have a technical dimension.

They are a result of different collective preferences that need to be taken into account. And we see a need to enlarge the agenda to deal explicitly with social issues, as well as consumer and sustainability issues such as climate change and resource consumption.

We have consistently called for cooperation in the field of employment and social affairs. The Commission itself made some proposals some five years ago. However, there has been no progress, and we repeat our call for the promotion and practical support for a transatlantic social agenda.

I have no intention of bringing our private grief to an international audience. But, in the knowledge that the US authorities have expressed soome interest in the EU so-called “better regulation” agenda, we need to state clearly our disquiet at Commission proposals, including some made just last week, that aim for minimalist regulation, for example excluding SMEs from risk assessments and aiming to cut labour inspection times by 20 per cent. I don’t think that we need to learn from each other about how to make things worse for workers and consumers.

New technologies and innovation

Trade unions are keen to become involved in dialogue on issues relating to innovation and notably to nanotechnologies, which we note are high on the TEC agenda.

They have been described as the “engine of the next industrial revolution”. They present great opportunities, but also significant dangers to the health and safety of workers and consumers, as well as to the environment.

Without going into details at this point, we would just draw attention to our view that the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) principle that says “no data, no market” should apply to those technologies and substances.

I know that REACH has been an EU-US issue. We hope that we can deal with the nanotechnology challenges positively and ensure that any mutual recognition approach meets the highest standards.

I would add that the ETUC had a significant influence on the European Parliament decisions on REACH. This is explained in particular because trade unions are at the cusp of the debate, needing to balance the short, medium and long-term interests of their members who range from industrial workers worried about their immediate job prospects to white collar professionals who may take a “greener” view.

Energy and climate change}}

We can contribute in the same way to the last, but by no means least, theme I will raise with you today. Energy use and climate change.

We have pressed for a European low carbon transition strategy based on ‘Just Transition’ principles: dialogue between Government, industry and trade unions and others on the economic and industrial changes involved; green and decent jobs; investment in low carbon technologies; new green skills.

These are difficult issues in Europe, just as they are in the US. We want to engage with you in solving them.