Negotiating the EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – a trade union update

In 2016, the EU and Indonesia initiated discussions on a free trade agreement with the aim of facilitating trade and investment between the two parties. Trade unions on both sides are working together to bring the worker’s voice to the negotiation process, the outcome of which will have implications for the working and living conditions of people in both Indonesia and the EU.

By Stijn Sintubin (ACV-CSC) & Sulistri Afrileston (KSBSI)

Following initial discussions (April 2016) to further deepen EU-Indonesia trade and investment relations, negotiations for an EU-Indonesia free trade agreement were launched on 18 July 2016. The scope of the negotiations was broad, range from tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade, trade in services and investment, trade aspects of public procurement, competition rules, intellectual property rights and sustainable development. Three rounds of negotiations have taken place to date. The first round took place during the summer of 2016 in Brussels, the second round was organised in January 2017 in Bali, and the latest round was held in Brussels, at the beginning of September.

From the beginning of the second round of EU-Indonesia negotiations, unions from both parties decided to get involved and push for a more sustainable, labour and human rights friendly trade agreement. The Dutch trade union CNV, the Belgian trade union ACV-CSC and the Indonesia trade union KSBSI, in cooperation with the ETUC, took up the task of following the trade negotiations closely and of providing input to the process. Free trade agreements of this type are having an increasing impact on the working and living conditions of working people in the different countries involved. The rules and regulations of these agreements apply directly as national laws and legislation, including on labour issues. As such, trade unions are concerned and must be involved.

In February 2017, a joint workshop was organised by KSBSI, CNV and ACV-CSC in Jakarta. Participants were acquainted with the content and process of the negotiation of this type of trade agreements. Fortunately, by clarifying that the existing agreement between the EU and Vietnam was to be the starting point of negotiations, the EU provided a concrete reference point. A common trade union position was established during the workshop, which outlined demands for the content as well as the negotiation process of the agreement. The workshop counted with the support and input of Indonesian civil society organisations (IGJ – Indonesia for Global Justice), as well as representatives of the Belgian and Dutch embassies in Jakarta.

The ETUC, in collaboration with its two European affiliates, sent a letter to Ms Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade (European Commission). It outlined a set of problems and preoccupations and it requested a genuine involvement of civil society and trade unions from both parties. In response, the European Commission proposed to open up the process to consultation.

Trade agreements are a new issue for trade unions in Indonesia. As such, KSBSI is investing time and means into training its advocates and into raising awareness of the necessity of the involvement of unions in these negotiations among its members and workers more broadly. KSBSI has also set up a negotiation team to take up the advocacy work with the relevant government administration and ministries involved on the Indonesian side. Following proactive engaging these actors, consultations were organised with different ministries, including with the Minister of Manpower and the Secretary of the Indonesian President.

In anticipation of the third round of negotiations in Brussels, the KSBSI team, headed by Sulistri Afrileston, vice president of KSBSI, was received by the head of the Indonesian negotiation team, Mr Syamsul Bahri Siregar. The objective of the meeting was to ensure a workers’ voice in the third round of negotiations. During this dialogue, KSBSI tabled the following demands:

Regarding the content of CEPA:

  • The content of the CEPA agreement must respect the national law and International Conventions ratified by the Indonesian government, particularly on labour. The International conventions include the eight ILO core Conventions, the UN Convention on the protection of migrant workers and their families, the ILO Declaration on Decent Work, the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization and its accompanying Recommendation.
  • The rights of workers in multinational companies should apply equally to all workers, including those in the supply chain, ranging from sub-contractors to the home based-work in the informal economy. Multinational companies are required to guarantee labour rights throughout their supply chain. Moreover, multinational companies have the social responsibility, as stated by the UN Guiding Principles, the OECD Guidelines, the Principles of the ILO and by the concept of multinational companies’ ’due diligence’, to consider the business and human rights impact of their actions now and for the coming generations.
  • The CEPA negotiations should include a clause on equal opportunities and access to training and skills development so that all workers will be able to develop their skills, to access education and promotion. Education, labour, science and technology transfer and non-discriminatory treatment should be integral parts of the contents of the agreement.
  • Trade unions and other CSOs from Indonesia and the EU should be involved in the implementation and monitoring of the CEPA agreement.
  • The CEPA agreement should ensure that there is a complaint mechanism that can be accessed by people and their representative organisations who feel harmed by the agreement.

Regarding the process of the negotiations:

  • The negotiation process must be transparent; trade unions and other CSOs should get information and have access to all supporting documents coming out of the negotiation progress.
  • KSBSI reminds the government that it is compulsory for any policy relating to labour to be made in consultation with trade unions, in accordance with ILO Convention number 144 on Tripartite Consultation, which the Indonesian Government ratified to ensure the protection of workers.

In a seminar organised in Brussels on 13-14 September 2017, different organisations and trade unions from Indonesia and the EU, including CNV, ACV-CSC and KSBSI, discussed the content and form of the Trade Sustainability Chapter of the CEPA as well as the complaint and dispute settlement mechanism for this type of agreement. Prior to the start of the third round of negotiations, trade unions and CSOs had the opportunity to meet some of the EU negotiators.

The next set of texts will be made public after this third round of negotiations. Trade unions hope to see their joint position integrated in the future trade agreement between these two important blocks.

Further information: