Trade agreement ‘troubled’: labour group

A controversial trade agreement being reviewed by the territorial government is a troubled document, says the Yukon Federation of Labour.

A controversial trade agreement being reviewed by the territorial government is a troubled document, says the Yukon Federation of Labour.

The federation is undertaking its own review of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), a bilateral pact signed by Alberta and BC in 2006 and recently rejected by Saskatchewan, which is being studied by the Yukon government after an invitation to join.

“I’m not saying that at this point there are positives or negatives but there are certainly things in the document that concern us,” said Furlong. “It’s a troubled document.

“It could have great impacts for labour both from the workers’ point of view and the social point of view.”

Furlong declined to go into specifics of the review until it’s finished, but did offer some hints about the direction of the review.

One of the primary reasons BC and Alberta signed on was “under the guise” of labour mobility; but no real barriers actually exist, he said.

“There are, depending on the part of the country you’re in, labour shortages and it would appear that provincial governments associate that with the need to sign on to document such as TILMA,” said Furlong.

“The last time I looked there is no such barrier to labour mobility in Canada. If I’m a carpenter I can go work anywhere in Canada. The last time there was a mass exodus to Fort McMurray, they didn’t put up border agents.”

TILMA demands “no obstacles” block the movement of investment, good and people between signatories and requires the elimination of incentives and regulation to create a competitive atmosphere for business.

Removing trade barriers would make it easier for labourers to relocate and businesses to invest outside of their home provinces, says the agreement.

A $5 million maximum fine can be levied by a TILMA panel against provincial/territorial governments or municipalities, school boards and publicly funded universities and colleges, which all fall under the agreement, if found in violation of offering tax incentives or regulating development and labour policies.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour authored a report on TILMA and came out against the agreement when the provincial government was reviewing the document.

“Four-fifths of employment is not in regulated professions or occupations where regulatory barriers exist,” said the report.

“TILMA, by its design and intent, threatens to weaken or drive down professional standards because the signatories are obliged to reconcile any measures that differ among the provinces, but not necessarily to the higher standard.”

Mechanisms like the red seal for trades people, which allows certified labourers to move from province to province, are already in place, said Furlong.

The report from the federation will consider alternatives to TILMA.

If a government wanted to keep workers in the province or territory, it’s the dollar sign that speaks loudest, said Furlong.

“If we have a crunch, well one of things you do is pay them better and give them better benefits. Employers need to be employers of choice. The youth want money and benefits and they want increased training opportunities. What a novel idea.”

Furlong and his colleagues have been studying TILMA for last three months and working with colleagues in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The study should be finished within three weeks and the conclusions of the study will be released at that time.