Canadian Lawyer InHouse

Feb/Mar 2010

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By Henry Dinsdale and Jeff Goodman Worldwide unions Global labour movement and international collective bargaining tial for North American companies. One of the labour movement's develop- ing objectives is to expand the scope of industrial relations by introducing international dimensions. If success- ful, this strategy could lead to a system of international collective bargaining. International framework agreements are a key building block for this global strategy. IFAs are written agreements between global union federations and multinational corporations, seeking to establish parameters for a dialogue relat- ing to workplace conditions across a multinational's global operations. The union strategy is an incremental one beginning with a mere statement of joint principles, capitalizing on international employment policy handbooks and the corporate social responsibility move- ment. While the content of individual IFAs differs, certain principles are com- mon to most agreements. All IFAs make reference to T International Labour Organization stan- dards regarding the right to join a union, collective bargaining, and non-discrimi- nation in employment. Many IFAs estab- lish minimum terms and conditions of employment that relate to working time, wages, or health and safety. An increasing number contain language committing the signatory multinational to apply the agreement's terms to its subsidiaries and, in some cases, its suppliers or contractors. IFAs, it seems, are greatly concerned with reach. Using the international platform he emerging joint global strategy of domestic unions and their international counterparts promises to be increasingly consequen- as a doorway into a multinational's global operations, unions seek to exert their influence broadly and deeply. The primary impediment to expand- ing IFAs beyond mere statements of principle is the question of enforcement. Consistent with the incremental nature of this strategy, however, "enforcement" provisions are appearing more frequently. These come in many forms: IFAs requir- ing the multinational to establish moni- toring mechanisms to ensure the terms of the agreement are complied with; incor- porating IFAs into the multinational's internal audit process; or even requiring attornment to the jurisdiction of a named domestic court. The number of agreements has grown rapidly since the first IFA was signed in 1988. During the 1990s, only one or two agreements were signed per year. After 2000 this rate increased dramati- cally; between six and 10 IFAs have been entered into annually since 2001. Today, there are about 80 IFAs in operation. Despite the growing number of agree- ments, very few non-European multi- nationals have been persuaded to sign an IFA. This is especially true in North America, where only one American and one Canadian multinational have entered into agreements with global union fed- erations. North American multinational reluctance to sign IFAs clearly poses a problem for the labour movement's glob- al strategy. To be sure, IFAs are already begin- ning to penetrate North America as European multinationals expand their North American presence and purchase American and Canadian businesses, but a gradual approach is not likely going to be sufficient to satisfy the union move- ment for long. As a result, it is likely domestic unions and global union fed- erations will seek to develop proactive strategies to bring pressure to bear upon North American multinationals to accept IFAs. Updated versions of the traditional "corporate campaigns" led by unions against employers could become an important union tactic in this respect. The labour movement's participation in highly publicized protest actions in recent decades has proved to be an effective tool for exerting public pressure on corpora- tions to "do the right thing." We witnessed this in the anti-global- ization movement of the 1990s, where a wide variety of protest actions played a role in convincing some companies to cease or reduce the use of labour inten- sive production facilities in countries with poor records of employee protection. The 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen demonstrated how sophisticated these tactics have become. Indeed, the cor- porate social responsibility movement has provided international unions with a logical platform upon which to advance IFA principles. The labour movement's comfort with Internet-based technologies will play a role in the ongoing strategy to per- suade multinationals to enter into IFAs. Domestic unions and global union fed- erations are both using the Internet as a forum through which to communicate with, and convene, domestic and inter- national constituencies. The Internet has transformed the international dimension of these move- ments and will surely continue to be used to leverage IFAs in the North American context. IH Henry Dinsdale and Jeff Goodman are labour and employment law partners at Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto. INHOUSE FEBRUARY 2010 • 7

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