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.