Congress seeks delay in tabling CETA motion in Oireachtas

14 Dec 2020


Congress has written to T.D.'s seeking a delay in the vote on CETA until important matters are discussed and debated properly.

Dear Deputy,

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which represents over 700,000 workers in Ireland, north and south, is deeply concerned about the proposal to ratify the EU-Canada Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Congress previously set out  our views on this proposed agreement in our 2016 briefing document Why unions oppose TTIP and CETA. We are particularly concerned that the agreement:

  1. Includes an investor-court system. This special court, which is only available to foreign investors, could be used to by-pass the domestic judicial system and challenge domestic laws that affect foreign investors’ rights under the agreement, including on the grounds that they could affect potential profits. This system could exert a chilling effect on government, and prevent the adoption of laws in the public interest that might trigger such a challenge, such as ensuring universal access to healthcare or implementing the precautionary principle. It should be noted that the draft EU-Mercosur agreement, reached in 2019, does not contain such a system. In view of the major public health and climate challenges facing Ireland, now is not the time to introduce any additional constraints on the right and ability of government to act.
  2. Does not include provisions that ensure that all signatory states adopt, maintain and enforce the eight fundamental ILO conventions and the ILO’s Decent Work agenda and provide for sanctions for all breaches of core ILO conventions.  In contrast to the right of investors under the agreement to seek compensation under the investor-court system, the most that can be done to uphold workers’ rights is the issuing of a non-binding report by a ‘panel of experts’. While the rights of workers are better respected in Canada than  in many other countries worldwide, the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index 2020 concludes that Canada is still a country in which ‘repeated violations of [workers’] rights take place’. ICTU would ask the Oireachtas to engage with the trade union movement before it plans to vote and the Government to support an EU-level review of the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter of CETA to enforce its provisions.
  3. Is based on a ‘negative list’ approach whereby all sectors come within its scope except those expressly exempted by the EU or each government (‘list it or lose it’). This leaves open the possibility that some sensitive sectors including public services may be inadvertently brought within its scope. In addition, the agreement includes a ‘rachet clause’ which provides that if certain sectors or measures that the EU or Ireland exempts from a commitment to liberalise is later (purposefully) deregulated, that later deregulation can never be revoked. For example, Ireland proposes to reserve “the right to adopt and maintain any measure with respect to the provision of privately funded social services other than services relating to Convalescent and Rest Houses and Old People’s Homes”. It should be noted that that eight other member states that have included a similar reservation in relation to privately-funded social services have not excluded convalescent and rest houses and old people’s homes. Given all that has happened in relation to Covid-19 in nursing homes, Ireland’s reservations, which were drafted in pre-pandemic times and which could ‘lock-in’ a light-touch regulatory regime for this sector, should at the very least be reviewed.
  4. Despite the text being available since 2014, no economic and sustainability impact assessment has been commissioned by Government on the implications for Ireland. This is contrast to the economic impact assessment produced for the proposed EU-US agreement (TTIP) in 2016 and the sustainability and economic impact assessment commissioned for the proposed EU-Mercosur agreement.
  5. Finally, we are not convinced that the text of the proposed agreement has undergone sufficient scrutiny. For example, we have still to hear a justification for the fact that the agreement states (p.433)  that Irish public procurement notices are published in the ‘Irish Independent’, ‘Irish Times’, ‘Irish Press’, ‘Cork Examiner’. (The Irish Press ceased publication in 1995 and the Cork Examiner became the Examiner in 1996 and the Irish Examiner in 2000).

ICTU would therefore urge Government to defer tabling any such motion until the Oireachtas has an opportunity to have a full exchange of views on this matter. We note that 11 other member states as well as Canada are still considering the ratification of this agreement so there is no need for Ireland to rush to ratify this agreement without proper scrutiny and debate.  

Yours sincerely,

Patricia King

General Secretary