Michael Whaites: Free Trade Agreements and the ratchet approach to regulation – Unions For Trade Justice

Michael Whaites: Free Trade Agreements and the ratchet approach to regulation

Michael is a registered nurse and midwife, an active unionist for 20 years and is now working as an organiser for the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation, and is sub-secretary of the Oceania region for Public Services International.

The problems with the free trade agreements is this standstill and ratchet approach to regulation. If the unions in Australia were successful in getting the safe staffing levels into legislation, if we can do that before a free trade agreement that involves Bupa, then we’re OK. We won’t get it afterwards. … So you can see the way that free trade agreements are impacting on this, the way they protect companies for maintaining their tax avoidance, the way they can smash trade union rights, the way they hamper what we say is decent regulation is deeply problematic.

The experience in Australia is the same as happening in NZ. I really like the model we have heard outlined that are based on Maori principles. The underlying principle of using indigenous environment-based philosophies can be really helpful because of that holistic approach they tend to take. As a long-term goal that’s really positive.

As a middle term goal for our movement, we should be looking at getting governments to do whole of government impact assessments of free trade agreements, not narrowly focused impact assessments. … Focusing on health care provision and what that means for societies is a good way to tap in and get engagement from broader communities.