Britain’s hopes for a favorable post-Brexit trade agreement with the US risk being undermined by the government’s lack of commitment to workers’ rights, unions have warned.
As a second round of US-UK negotiations begins this week, union leaders from both countries said Washington would push for a “worker-centered approach to trade” to help unlock an agreement.
The TUC and the AFL-CIO, the largest unions in the UK and US, accused the Boris Johnson government of failing to understand the importance of workers’ rights, saying a change was urgently needed.
It comes as ministers press to build new ties around the world after leaving the EU, where a US trade deal is seen as a price target for the government as it seeks to demonstrate the benefits of Brexit.
After opening a dialogue on the future of Atlantic trade in Baltimore last month, talks will resume this week in Aberdeen and London between British Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Katherine Tai, the US Trade Representative.
At the first round of meetings, Trevelyan promised that she would “strengthen the protection of workers’ rights and the environment” and “fight forced labor globally”.
But US and British union leaders said the British government had all too often entered into agreements with distasteful regimes that did not respect fundamental human and labor rights.
The government had promised a role for union representatives in powerful post-Brexit trade advisory groups, which are being consulted on negotiations. However, the TUC warned that the nominees for the posts had not yet been confirmed by ministers, meaning the unions did not have a seat at the table.
In a joint statement, the two groups, representing more than 17 million workers, called on the US and UK governments to work together to protect employment standards.
Frances O’Grady, secretary general of the TUC, said the British government had rushed into post-Brexit negotiations with countries that “easily abuse fundamental human and labor rights”, such as Colombia and Turkey.
“Trade agreements can raise labor standards, promote decent work and reduce inequality around the world. But the UK government has agreed too many agreements that put working people at a disadvantage,” she said.
“Enough is enough. It’s time for a truly worker-centered trade approach. It means making sense to consult with trade unions and act on our concerns. Only then will the US government probably consider closer trade relations with Britain.”
Eric Gottwald, a trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said: “For too long, workers’ voices have been shut out of trade negotiations or discussions. We need the TUC and its unions at the table to form a fair agreement that raises wages and standards. both sides of the Atlantic. “
The groups said that under Joe Biden’s administration, the United States had become increasingly involved in protecting workers’ rights in trade negotiations in recent years, including in the recent agreement between the United States and Mexico.
The leaders said as a result of the unions ‘involvement in the USMCA negotiations, the agreement contains “one of the strongest enforcement of labor rights ever agreed”, with options to impose sanctions on companies abusing workers’ rights.
A spokesman for the Department of International Trade said: “Trade unions took part in the first trade dialogue between Britain and the United States in Baltimore last month, and tomorrow the Secretary-General of the TUC will speak in plenary for the second dialogue we are hosting in Aberdeen.
“Britain has a strong trade relationship with the United States, worth over £ 200 billion a year, and through our joint trade dialogues we can deliver a broader and even more ambitious trade agenda.
“We are committed to listening to trade unions and a wide range of voices to ensure that our trade policy delivers for the whole of the UK.”