Like their counterparts in the US, Mexico’s right-wing politicians have proposed changes to the country’s labor law aimed at lowering wages, making work less secure, and making it more difficult for workers to join unions that fight for the interest of workers.
About six weeks ago, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), after consultation with Mexico’s leading industrialists, introduced a bill in the Chamber of Deputies purporting to be a labor reform bill. Since then there has been a rush to pass the measure with little scrutiny or debate. The bill is supported by the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), which like PRI is a pro-business, anti-worker party.
The bill amends Mexico’s labor laws, which on paper provide significant protections to workers; however, enforcement of the labor code has been lax since the Mexican government in the 1990s adopted a development strategy that seeks to keep worker wages and benefits low to attract international investment.
The bill also protects Mexico’s traditional unions, which long ago decided to support the government’s low-wage strategy and have since functioned to protect the interests of employers rather than fight for the interests of workers.
On the other hand, the bill seeks to limit the effectiveness of independent unions like the Miners Union (Los Mineros), Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), and the telecommunication workers union (STRM) by making it illegal for workers to join cross industry unions, like Los Mineros and FAT, or join unions outside of their craft. The bill would also ban temporary workers from joining independent union.
Independent unions have been organizing workers to fight back against the government’s low-wage strategy, with some success. Los Mineros, which organizes workers in diverse industries, has won contracts that significantly boost wages and benefits.
Writing in La Jornada, Arturo Alcalde Justiniani says that PRI’s proposal “upholds employers priorities” by making it easier to outsource work and fire workers.” Furthermore, if enacted, the bill would give employers more leeway in using subcontractor and temporary workers to sidestep job security protections in the labor code. “Article 15(b) (of the bill) normalizes subcontractor work, without (providing) safeguards against job insecurity,” inequality, and low wages,” Alcalde writes.
Another part of the proposed legislation limits back pay in illegal dismissal cases to a maximum of 12 months and does nothing to expedite the long drawn-out process now used to determine whether a dismissal was justified.
Legislators in the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower house, are fast tracking the proposed legislation and hope to have it heard and reported out of committee by April 18. They are also telling the public that the purpose of the bill is to create more jobs and have discouraged open and honest discussion about the bill.
But Mexico’s independent labor movement is doing everything it can to expose the true nature of the bill. Two large rallies, one on March 31 and the other on April 7, have been held to protest the bill. The unions will host an international tribunal on free trade unionism on April 29 in Mexico City, where those attending will hear “a strong globally supported case against the proposed labour law, as well as specific cases from affected unions.”
The International Trade Union Confederation has sent a letter to Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon denouncing the bill as an attack on free trade unionism. The International Metalworkers’ Federation has been urging people to write letters to key members of the Mexican Congress to demand that the legislation be withdrawn.
In a message sent to the March 31 rally, exiled general secretary of Los Mineros Napoleon Gomez Urrutia wrote, the proposed law is a “robbery of labor rights in Mexico.” He also called on Labor Minister Javier Lozano Alacron to resign immediately to prevent “further damage to industrial relations and social peace in the republic.”