Accueil » 54-2 ( 1999) » Les dilemmes de l'ANACT : ambiguïté ou complémentarité?

Les dilemmes de l'ANACT : ambiguïté ou complémentarité?

Pierre Verge


Cette analyse du contenu de /'Accord nord-américain de coopération dans le domaine du travail (ANACT), compte tenu de l'expérience résultant de ses cinq années d'application, cherche à en cerner la nature véritable, malgré une certaine dose d'ambiguïté qui lui est inhérente. A-t-il pour objet de protéger le commerce trinational ou le travail ? Dans quelle mesure s'impose-t-il aux trois droits nationaux en cause ? S'agit-il d'un objectif d'effectivité ou de progression de ces normes nationales du travail ? Enfin, pour ce qui est de la mise en œuvre de l'Accord, l'approche en est-elle une de coopération ou de confrontation ?


For the last five years, the existence of the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC)has provided a social dimension to the economic space created by NAFTA. This article attempts to determine the true nature of the NAALC, despite its ambiguities. These ambiguities relate to the agreement's very raison d'être,or aim, to the nature and scope of the set of norms that it articulates, and, finally, to the means used to attain its objectives.

With regard to its raison d'être—and considering its historical link to NAFTA — the NAALC could be assimilated to a "social clause." Moreover, its preamble stresses the interrelationship between NAFTA's aim of creating an expanded market and the state of the employment Systems involved. It also includes eleven "labour principles" "that the Parties are committed to promote." And both labour and transnational free trade certainly benefit from the promotion of various cooperative activities between the parties linked to these different principles. However, the true purpose of the Agreement is more likely to be revealed by the treatment reserved for matters involving conflict. At the public communications stage, as well as at the stage of ministerial consultations, labour and international trade are equally protected. At subsequent stages, that is, the appointment of an Evaluation Committee of Experts and the arbitration stage, including the sanctions imposed by arbitral decisions, a number of NAALC's specific provisions demonstrate that it is concerned with just some of the "labour principles," and then only to the extent that they relate to international trade. This position lags behind the development of the international defense of human social rights.

On the basis of its normative and institutional content, the NAALC cannot be considered supranational; it is, instead, an interstate and trinational mechanism, in which each of the parties commits itself to effectively applying its own labour law. Three legislative Systems, each at a different stage of development, are involved. However, the agreement does impose basic procedural requirements with regard to the administrative and judicial application of these rights by national authorities. Above all, the application of national law is no longer the exclusive concern of its drafter. Furthermore, the agreement views this national legislation not only in static terms, but also from a more dynamic point of view. However, the programmatic achievement of this objective suffers from the lack of a method of regular monitoring. In certain contentious contexts, the requirement to respect the constitutional framework of each of the Parties may also create obstacles. Finally, the pursuit of the objectives set out in the NAALC must be carried out by the Parties in a spirit of cooperation. The cooperative activities that take place under its aegis are unquestionably important. However, how are the more contentious issues being dealt with? This depends on the stage of intervention. The examination by the National Administrative Offices of public communications — the only procedural opening for action by civil society groups, particularly unions and human rights organizations — takes place exclusively within the area of "cooperative consultations and evaluations."

In the long run, this may give rise to disenchantment on the part of those who submit public communications, who are seeking immediate redress for the workers concerned. This is also the case for ministerial consultations and the subsequent involvement of experts (the Evaluation Committee of Experts). Should arbitration be used, this would entall a distinct and more conflictual process, that of "Dispute Resolution." Arbitration will still have to be reconciled with the gênerai stance of "cooperation and consultation," which is supposed to generally govern the implementation of the Agreement.

Thus, the NAALC is far from always being unequivocal. In view of these ambiguities, the presence of which can be explained in large part by the initial context in which the agreement was negotiated, what conclusions can we draw? Notwithstanding the fact that it offers only limited protection to workers' rights, a situation which stems from the link the Agreement establishes between its objectives and the protection of international trade, human rights are involved. Basic workers' rights deserve to be dealt with as such and in a comprehensive manner by an instrument that would likely be of a trinational nature like the present NAALC. A supranational approach would indeed seem rather utopian in the current North American context.


Este anàlisis del contenido del Acuerdo Norteamericano de Cooperaciòn en el sector del Trabajo (ANACT), teniendo en cuenta los ùltimos cinco anos de aplicaciòn, intenta encontrar la esencia del acuerdo por sobre la ambigùedad que es inhérente a este tipo de acuerdos. Tiene por objeto el protéger el comercio entre los très paîses o el trabajo ? Hasta que punto se impone por encima de las leyes laborales de cada uno de los très paîses ? Se trata de una evoluciòn naturales en la eficiencia de las leyes laborales de los très paìses ? Finalmente, por lo que trata a la implementaciòn del acuerdo, el camino elegido a sido uno de cooperaciòn o de confrontaciòn ?