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Canada – EU Free Trade Agreement: Canada’s Labour Market Continues to Integrate into the Global Marketplace


The federal government announced on Friday, October 18th that Canada and the European Union (“EU”) have come to a “political agreement” on free trade.  The agreement, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA”), has been called the most comprehensive free trade agreement ever signed by Canada.

The agreement indeed appears highly comprehensive, addressing a range of areas including but not limited to the movement of goods, industry specific matters such as those relating to telecommunications and financial services, labour mobility and employment standards, the environment, and topics relating to sustainable development.

With respect to labour issues, all indications to date are that CETA will address not only the movement of labour between the EU and Canada but also employment standards across EU nations and various jurisdictions in Canada.

CETA and employment standards

CETA will include a range of labour provisions intended to reinforce the rights of workers across Canada and the EU.  The agreement will specifically include labour provisions intended to foster good labour governance.  The agreement also reinforces both Canada and the EU’s commitments to international labour standards, including assurances that they are properly enshrined in domestic laws and effectively enforced upon.

The agreement includes a commitment by the EU nations and Canada to ensure that national laws respect labour rights, including freedom of association and collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace.

CETA also includes a commitment on the part of all governments to ensure that there is no retrenchment in labour rights in efforts to promote trade or attract investment.  The agreement will also establish civil society advisory groups through which the public can raise labour-related concerns.  The advisory groups will also provide ongoing recommendations relating to CETA labour provisions.  CETA will further encourage inter-government cooperation on labour-related issues and cooperation in international forums.

CETA and Labour Mobility

A priority of CETA is to promote the movement of skilled labour between the EU and Canada.  The agreement will accordingly include provisions for the temporary entry of a wide range of workers from various categories of business persons, including short-term business visitors, investors, intra-company transferees, and various professionals.The agreement will accordingly substantially facilitate the movement of workers and investors between the EU and Canada.

There are already several provisions under the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) that facilitates the movement of workers between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.  NAFTA specifically encourages the movement of a range of skilled workers such as Accountants, Management Consultants, Engineers, and various categories of Scientists.  NAFTA also has a broad range of business visitor categories, along with provisions intended to facilitate intra-company transferees.

CETA will further open of Canada’s labour market to foreign markets.  In return, Canadians will find it easier to search for and secure investment and work opportunities abroad.

Canada’s growing number of trade agreements has meant that its labour market is rapidly becoming global in nature. This is not surprising given that Canada’s economy is highly dependent on international trade and has an increasingly diverse portfolio of trading partners.

While we still await the final details of CETA, what is clear from international agreements such as CETA and NAFTA is that labeling Canada’s international agreements as “free trade” is something of a misnomer given that labour issues are becoming as integral a component to such agreements as are issues directly addressing trade in goods.

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