Action plans on labour

Since 2011, the US government has been requesting countries with poor labour rights enforcement to implement action plans (eg, Colombia). These documents define a list of reforms and call for a consolidation of administrative (inspection) and judicial mechanisms related to the application of labour laws. In addition to requiring the immediate implementation of plan recommendations prior to approving trade agreements, these action plans include a biannual follow-up mechanism to assess its effectiveness. Canada’s traditional approach does not include mandatory, labour-related action plans before ratification of a free trade agreement.

An action plan is therefore taken at the stage preceding the entry into force of a trade agreement, when one of the parties has not yet reached the level of commitment expected. This mechanism could also be further mobilized after the agreement enters into force if considered pertinent. By establishing and implementing action plans, the concerned State would be granted a stay to remedy the problem: such procedure would suspend temporarily the dispute settlement mechanism.

Ways to implement Labour Action Plans

  • Including an action plan in all trade agreements signed by Canada with States with poor implementation of workers’ rights. This plan would ensure that partners take the necessary measures to remedy the situation by adopting legislative and/or administrative reforms.
  • Including incentive-based action plans. Such a model would link all progress in workers’ rights to the agreement’s trade privileges. The State concerned would retain full discretion as to how to achieve the objectives. In this model, the privileges would be suspended if the expected objective is not met.
  • Involving the ILO by requesting its technical expertise in order to support the inclusion of reforms in each action plan and to monitor their implementation.
  • Involving civil society (trade unions, NGOs) in the action plan conceptualization and implementation monitoring. Such organizations might be of help identifying problems and defining objectives.

Arguments in favour

  • Action plans are incentive mechanisms with resources adapted to the situation in each country.
  • The establishment of measurable benchmarks can foster a positive sense of emulation around the objectives.
  • Action plans are designed to address each country specific problems rather than imposing a uniform solution on all.
  • Action plans promote co-operation rather than coercion.

Arguments against

  • By prescribing specific legislative and administrative reforms, action plans are often regarded as interference in partner countries’ internal affairs.
  • Plans do not solve the problems they are meant to address.
  • The trade agreement can enter into force even if the action plan’s objectives are not met.
  • There is no real sanction in case of failure to comply with the action plan.

 They said:

«Colombia has made meaningful progress across a number of areas, including […] a reduction in violence against labor unionists, and a doubling of the number of labor inspector positions in Colombia’s Ministry of Labor, […]. This progress has contributed to tens of thousands of workers joining or forming new unions in Colombia[…].»

USTR and Department of Labor. «The Colombian Labor Action Plan: A Five Year Update». Washington, 11 April  2016



«While the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan has yet to be fully implemented – for example, sub-contracting that impedes labor organizing still exists and impunity in trade unionist murders remains very high – it serves as an important framework for addressing these issues and highlights sectors requiring further attention.»

 Lisa Haugaard – LAWGEF Director & Gimena Sanchez and Adam Isacson – WOLA Senior Associates, Latin America Working Group. «Questions for President Obama and Colombian President Santos Ahead of Washington Visit», 3 February  2016



«[The Action Plan] contained two fundamental weaknesses. First, the Plan did not require actual concrete progress as a precondition for approval of the FTA. […] The second fundamental weakness is that there is no enforceable commitment to ensure adherence to the Plan after passage of the FTA and the elimination of the primary incentive for compliance.»

USTR and Department of Labor. «The Colombian Labor Action Plan: A Five Year Update». Washington, 11 April  2016



«While still failing to meet the expectations of Colombia’s workers and the major trade union confederations, the first year of the Labor Action Plan provided a glimpse of hope for workers and a new organizing tool to push for a labor agenda in Colombia. Unfortunately, the changes were more cosmetic rather than structural. […] it is now, more than ever, imperative that the U.S. and Colombian governments seriously commit to hold up their end of the Labor Action Plan bargain. The governments must start by consulting and listening to the workers and working closely with the unions to strengthen the Labor Action Plan’s implementation.»

Lisa Haugaard, The Huffington Post. September 4th, 2014



«[…] the Labor Action Plan did not go far enough to ensure the safety and security of Colombian workers. […] 73 more trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. That alone is reason enough to say the Labor Action Plan has failed.»

AFL-CIO. «Making the Colombia Labor Action Plan Work for Workers». Washington, 2014