Malaysia will have to fully implement measures to combat human trafficking and Vietnam must allow independent labour unions before reaping the benefits of a new Pacific trade deal, details of the pact released today showed.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will require countries to legislate for minimum wages and hours of work, discourage trade in goods made by forced labour and maintain labour protections in designated export zones as a condition of membership.
The pact, which will open new markets for Malaysian electronics companies and Vietnamese clothing firms, imposes additional obligations on those two countries and Brunei on workers’ rights.
Bilateral agreements with the US lay out specific conditions for each country, including affected domestic laws and a mechanism to police implementation for seven to 10 years.
“Being tied to entry into force means we have the ability to certify whether or not a country has met those standards so it gives us significant leverage,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said.
In Malaysia, required reforms will make it clear that it is illegal for employers to hold workers’ passports, ensure employment levies are paid by employers and not workers, extend protections against excessive recruitment fees to all recruitment agencies and employers, and stop agencies which violate labour laws from bringing in new overseas workers.
Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities discovered dozens of suspected mass migrant graves and human rights groups reported continued forced labour in the nation’s lucrative palm oil, construction and electronics industries.
Malaysia must fully implement reforms to allow victims of human trafficking to travel, work and live outside government shelters and remove long-standing restrictions on unions and strikes, the summary of the text showed.
The country’s record came into focus earlier this year after Washington upgraded Malaysia in its annual trafficking scorecard, sidestepping a law which would have barred the TPPA from a fast track through Congress.
Lawmakers demanded an investigation after a Reuters examination found the US State Department office set up to independently rate countries’ efforts was repeatedly overruled by senior US diplomats.
Vietnam, which has been targeted by critics concerned that low wages and weak worker protections will entice US manufacturers, will have to allow workers to form their own autonomous unions. Other reforms will increase penalties against forced labour and protect against discrimination.
The labour chapter requires all TPPA countries to grant workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively and ban forced and child labour and discrimination in employment, as well as new commitments to legislate working conditions. Breaches can be punished by trade sanctions.
But the deal stops short of setting a floor for minimum wages or ceilings on working hours. The US federal minimum wage is US$7.25 per hour. Minimum wages in Vietnam in 2014 ranged from US$85 to US$121 per month.