Labour Body Abandons Attack on Free Trade

Worth A Look, Globalization, Frontier Centre

OTTAWA — The Canadian Labour Congress is officially abandoning its attack on free trade with the United States today, acknowledging that it has not been the “economic disaster” the labour group had predicted at the time.

In a speech to be delivered this morning, CLC president Ken Georgetti acknowledges the deal has been a boost to manufacturing, but adds his voice to the chorus of critics challenging the low levels of productivity in the Canadian economy.

The two-day gathering here will feature union and private sector economists, as well as representatives from the four major political parties, to hash out proposals to position the Canadian economy for the future.

Although the Canadian economy has performed well under free trade, the labour union argues that most of the new manufacturing jobs have been created in smaller, non-unionized plants.

Georgetti kicks off the congress warning of the effects on Canadian labour of the large workforce in China and points out that Canadian companies are not as productive as their U.S. counterparts.

Output per hour of the average Canadian worker has only grown by 17.9 per cent between 1992 and 2002, compared to 51.9 per cent in the U.S., according to the CLC’s own figures. But Georgetti isn’t pointing the finger at his members for the productivity gap. Instead, companies are to blame for not putting tax savings back into the business through investments in technology, he argues. Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters chief economist Jayson Myers will also address the conference today, which he hopes will refocus Ottawa’s attention on the importance of economic growth to pay for the recent flurry of new spending.

The economist said he welcomes Georgetti’s new position on free trade and said the low Canadian dollar is the primary reason for weaker productivity in comparison to the U.S.

— CanWest News Service