This and that for your Thursday reading.
- The Economist takes a look
at the effect of international trade agreements - and confirms the long-held concern that the erosion and non-enforcement of labour standards consistently follows the signing of government suicide pacts:
Some results are rather unsurprising. Countries with better civil liberties tend to have higher labour standards. Countries in the OECD, which are richer, do better than those outside (only one OECD member, Turkey, has a score less than 15). But other results in the paper are alarming. During the 1980s and 1990s, the labour-rights index fell precipitously (see the blue line below). The authors reckon this is down to competition for foreign direct investment.
(T)here is evidence of between-country competition. If the labour standards across all other countries decline, those of the excepted country also tend to fall. The regressions also show that membership in the World Trade Organisation, a multilateral institution which aims to promote trade, leads to a lower labour-rights index.
But the race to the bottom operates more subtly than most people suppose. The regressions suggest that while countries do compete with each other by instituting laws that are unfriendly to workers, such competition is not that pronounced. The real problem is that countries compete by enforcing
labour laws less vigorously than they might—leading to increases in violations of labour rights prescribed in local laws. Competition between countries to attract investment is less in rules than in their practical application. - Meanwhile, Jim Stanford makes the case
for public sector workers' right to strike:
The attack on public sector labour rights is usually justified by the claim that unions have soaked taxpayers through their irresistible demands. This claim is not supported. In practice, public sector bargaining tends to follow economy-wide trends, but with a lag. Public sector wages were much lower before public sector unionization took off in the 1970s. Wages caught up in the 1980s, then fell behind again during the austere 1990s. The public sector did better in the mid-2000s. But more recently, bargaining has clearly responded to tough times: for four years running, public sector settlements have lagged well behind private sector deals, and behind the general growth of earnings in the overall economy.
Average earnings in the public sector are five to 10 per cent higher than economy averages (depending on how they are measured) — but education and credentials are significantly higher, too. Comparing similar occupations and credentials, it’s largely a wash. Women make more in the public sector than in the private sector, but men make less. The whole wage scale is compressed (with a higher bottom and a lower top). But overall public sector compensation is not out of whack — and powerful economic and political pressures tend to keep it that way.
Governments are the only employer with the power to “solve” their labour relations problems by simply dictating a settlement. The potential for misuse of this confluence of fiscal interest and political power is enormous. Most private sector employers would love to outlaw strikes and dictate wage outcomes, but they can’t — and for good reason. Where public employees provide a genuinely essential service (like fire, police, and some health services), there’s no debate: in place of strikes or lockouts, a neutral arbitration system should replicate collective bargaining outcomes without work stoppage. But other public sector workers must have the same rights as anyone else in our society to organize themselves and promote their interests, up to and including withdrawing their labour if that’s necessary to get a deal. - Michael Harris argues
that if Stephen Harper wants to plead innocence his party's Senate bribery scandal, it's long past time for him to call a public inquiry and stop stonewalling against the disclosure of the documentation his office has consistently concealed - while Alison makes note
of what's still missing from the investigative record. And Chris Selley highlights
Harper's selective outrage at the misuse of public and donor dollars.
- Project Money reports
on the potential for doctors to work toward better health outcomes by prescribing adequate income for patients in need. And Global interviews
Ryan Meili about the regulatory mechanisms provinces can use to keep prescription drugs affordable.
- Finally, Andy Rowell points out
the absurdity of exploiting parts of the tar sands which require more energy to be produced than they actually generate after extraction takes place.