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Mexican’s Labor Rights Closely Watched… by the US

MEXICO CITY, Nov 18 2020 (IPS) - As many have observed worldwide, the outcome of the US presidential elections has been, as expected – full of hope and fear. Many people had the bad feeling that if Trump were to be re-elected, the uncertainty, already enormous due to the pandemic and its effects, would jeopardize the economic recovery worldwide. The triumph of Democrat Biden does not guarantee great solutions, but at the least offers a little more of transparency, certainty, and stability.

Saul Escobar Toledo

For Mexico, the result could impact in different senses: the policy towards Latin America; pressures to stop undocumented migration; and the economic and commercial ties between both nations. There is, however, a special issue that deserves more attention because it has been less well known: labor relations in Mexico.

To understand the issue, it is worth remembering that to renegotiate NAFTA and the signature of the T-MEC or USMC (United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement) anew labor chapter was introduced. It is Annex 23-A which is entitled “The representation of workers in collective bargaining in Mexico”. There is no doubt that this annex was agreed to try to prevent in Mexico the existence of “contratos de protección patronal” or protection labor contracts which favor employers as they are signed without the knowledge and of course the acceptance of the workers. In short, labor agreements are legally valid but fraudulent because there was no bargaining at all between employers and employees. This kind of contracts have made easier the permanent fall of wages of Mexican workers. The purpose for this has been to attract investments and companies from the US to Mexico.

As a result of the labor chapter agreed in USMC, Mexico had to reform its labor legislation, which happened in April 2019. The new administration headed by President Lopez Obrador was keen to these changes as he was convinced that companies have abused Mexican workers too much and too long.

The constitutional and law amendments gave light to a new labor model. The one that was in force for more than a hundred years was based on tripartite justice (government, employers, and workers); it is now supported by judicial courts. The old order gave the government the power to recognize and control the unions; the new is based on a broad freedom of association. For the first time in many years, Mexican workers will have a real chance to choose by secret, personal and direct vote their leaders and representatives; and join the organization of their choice.

Despite these reforms, the vote of the (new) Agreement in the Congress of the United States was a complicated matter. It was finally resolved when the bill HR- 5430 was adopted on January 3, 2020 by US lawmakers. In Title VII there is a “labor monitoring and enforcement “chapter. It includes an Interagency Labor Committee designed to monitor the implementation and maintenance of Mexico’s labor reform. The Committee will also have the task of establishing a web-based hotline, monitored by the Department of Labor, to receive confidential information regarding labor issues directly from Mexican workers.

The bill authorizes hiring of up to 5 additional full-time officers of the Department of Labor and assign them to the United States Embassy in Mexico. Their duty is: “Submitting to the Interagency Labor Committee on a quarterly basis, reports on the efforts undertaken by Mexicoto comply with its labor obligations”. The bill also established an ‘‘Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board’’, to be responsible for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of Mexico’s labor reform and compliance with its labor obligations. The Board will be composed of 12 members appointed by the government and both parties represented in Congress (Democrats and Republicans).

In summary, the Treaty contemplates a heavy bureaucratic apparatus that will monitor the conditions of Mexican workers , especially in industries such as: automobile assembly; auto part; aerospace; electronics; call centers ; mining and steel and aluminum. In case of finding violations and if they are not corrected, the goods produced in these companies would be detained at the border unable to enter the US and Canada, or rather receive a special tariff. This legal and institutional machinery is going to remain despite the political changes that take place in Washington due to the November 3 elections.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, things changed in more ways than one: the effects of the pandemic and the economic slowdown had a response from the government that consisted of maintaining its original program , planned since last year and, in addition , carrying out an adjustment to public spending . This austerity policy was confirmed in the draft budget sent to Congress for 2021.

Thus, the collapse of the employment, formal and informal, and the income of families have had no compensation, causing a huge social debt that is reflected in an increase of poverty and extreme poverty. It is also expected that the economic recovery will be much slower for the rest of the year and 2021. All this will undoubtedly make more difficult collective bargaining as companies will seek to cut staff, provide fewer benefits or freeze wages. In addition, while the health problem is resolved, the resumption of economic activities may cause more infections and deaths among industrial workers, as seems to be happening in the maquiladora industry along the northern border of the country.

Under these conditions, the implementation of the labor reform, with surveillance and in some cases direct inspection of US personnel could be the cause of disputes and controversies. Biden´s victory will probably put more pressure on Mexico. Labor unions in the US and Canada will support the “monitoring” is carried out effectively and on time.

The president and the Congress of Mexico cannot be indifferent and wait to see what happens. A decisive set of actions to curb poverty and unemployment, protect workers and revive the economy with lower risks is necessary and urgent. Only in this way can workers’ bargaining capacity be strengthened.

The future of the labor reform cannot depend on US pressure on Mexico. Even if we admit that the intentions are laudable,Mexican workers cannot become pieces of a mechanism at the service of a foreign country: nothing more and nothing less than the most powerful nation in the world.


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