The 'Labour' Chapter of the CPTPP as Neoliberal Regulation (July 2018)

Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, Melbourne Law School

CELRL Labour Law Seminar, Co-hosted by the Global Economic Law Network

The 'Labour' chapter of the CPTPP as neoliberal regulation

Seminar presented by Professor Joo-Cheong Tham

Thursday 26 June 2018: 1–2pm at Melbourne Law School

About the event

The Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is the most significant trade agreement to be completed in recent times, with its signatories including Australia representing 13.5% of global GDP. Indeed, there is the possibility that its significance growing with Indonesia and United Kingdom considering joining the CPTPP.

Australian workers might have cause to welcome the CPTPP: its ‘Labour’ chapter has been hailed as providing ‘the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history’. Yet, what is strongest might still be weak; the highest standards might nevertheless be pitched too low.

This paper argues that this ‘Labour’ chapter is a form of neoliberal regulation – faux regulation. It stands forth as an example of such legalised minimalism for three reasons. First, it provides for flexible standards particularly through its reliance on rights recognised in the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Second, it lays down standards for flexibility through non-existent standards, liquid-soft obligations, and heavily qualified obligations. Third, the parties appear to have constructed a system of Mutually Assured Non-Compliance.

This presentation is based on the submission by Joo-Cheong Tham and K D Ewing to the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade into the CPTPP.

About the speaker

Joo-Cheong Tham is a Professor at the Melbourne Law School. His research spans the fields of labour law and public law with a focus on law and democracy; and the regulation of precarious work. He is also the inaugural Director of the Electoral Regulation Research Network, an initiative sponsored by the New South Wales Electoral Commission, Victorian Electoral Commission and Melbourne Law School.