Fears secret trade negotiations threaten public health services

The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has joined a global campaign opposed to a sweeping trade deal which could threaten the provision of public services and open the door to full privatisation.

Rallies have been staged in number of countries today to protest against secret negotiations resuming in Geneva, Switzerland, on the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Australia is participating in the TISA negotiations along with the United States, the European Union and a further 20 parties.

Public service workers and supporters have called for the release of detailed information on the negotiations and further assurances the TISA would not affect the provision of any public services. Campaigners previously delivered a protest letter, signed by over 350 organisations from over 115 countries, to government leaders.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, has written today to Federal Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb expressing deep concern about the TISA negotiations and calling for details to be released for public scrutiny.

“Such an agreement would make it easier for multinational corporations to profit with impunity,” Mr Holmes said.

“If successful it could open up a wide range of vital public services, such as health care, to be sold off permanently for private profit and never allowed to be returned to public hands. Every new health care service would also have to be privatised under this agreement.

“In NSW, our public hospitals and other health services are already under threat from new Premier Mike Baird, who has publicly indicated his support for privatisation. This is despite the fact the privatisation of health in NSW has a proven track record of failure; for example, the previously privatised Port Macquarie Base Hospital had to be bought back by the Government due to poor performance and cost blowouts. Under the TISA governments would be prevented from stepping in to save essential public services.

“We know through experience that privatisation sees increased cost to the consumer and a lack of accountability to the community. We hope the NSW community will speak out against the privatisation of health, whether at a state level or if it’s imposed on us at the behest of overseas companies through agreements such as this.”

Mr Holmes also welcomed the release today of a new report which highlights adverse impacts the TISA could have on future governments.

Commissioned by global trade union, Public Services International (PSI), the report ‘TISA versus Public Services’ reveals how the TISA would lock in existing and any future privatisation of public services. The proposed agreement could make it impossible for future governments to restore public services to public control, even in cases where private service delivery had failed. It would also restrict a government’s ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows.

Speaking from the lead protest in Geneva, Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of PSI said: “This is an attempt to secretly extend the most damaging parts of the infamous GATS agreement that previously sparked global protests. The aim of public services should not be to make profits for large multinational corporations. Ensuring that failed privatisations can never be reversed is free market ideology gone mad.”

Pavanelli continued: “It is fundamentally undemocratic for parliaments to permanently hand over the people’s democratic mandate to multinational companies.”

In Brussels, Jan Willem Goudriaan, Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), said: “This agreement will bind future governments, regardless of who wins elections and what the courts say. If the European Commission has nothing to hide they must immediately release full details of these negotiations.”

In London, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, spoke of people’s experience in the United Kingdom: “Privatisations of the National Health Service and the London Underground transit system have been costly disasters. Tying our government’s hands to prevent us from dealing with failed privatisations will give business the green light to take us all for an expensive ride.”

The report was written by Scott Sinclair, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University.

Download a copy of the TISA versus Public Services report.

Download this media release: Fears secret trade negotiations will threaten public health services

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