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Labour side agreements are touted as a way to ensure workers are protected in any trade agreement. The track record of NAFTAs labour side agreement shows workers get conferences, seminars and studies instead of action to protect their rights.

The three NAFTA countries signed the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) in 1993. On paper, the agreement commits Mexico, Canada and the United States to promote labour principles including the right to unionize, the right to bargain collectively, the right to strike, protection of migrant workers, the right to a minimum wage, hours of work and other standards. The agreement allows workers to file complaints if a principle is violated. But the complaints process has proven to be long and drawn-out, with limited union participation.

For example, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers filed a NAALC complaint against Canada for denying rural and suburban mail couriers the right to unionize and bargain collectively. In response, the US National Administrative Office refused to accept the complaint claiming it was outside its jurisdiction. In making the decision, the NAO heard from Canada Post without making the union aware of the employers submission. CUPW was not allowed to respond, and NAO decisions cannot be appealed.

The only outcome of CUPWs complaint was a government-sponsored workshop on labour rights in the US and Canada. It seems this is the most workers can hope for out of the NAALC.

A review of 23 NAALC complaints filed in the seven years since it came into effect shows that of the cases accepted for review, ministerial consultations have been recommended in only 10 cases. Of those cases, the consultations have led to about four conferences, three public seminars, and two studies.

Compare that to the corporate victories as a result of complaints under NAFTAs Chapter 11 investor state provisions, and its clear who NAFTA protects, and whos been left on the sidelines.