Mexico makes progress on labor rights, but better salaries are still needed

Note published on July 1 2024 in elnorte.com, Business section, by Verónica Gascón. Mention: Oscar De la Vega.

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Four years after the entry into force of the USMCA, and with it, the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, there is recognition of the right of workers in Mexico to organize themselves in a union.

This, however, has not translated into a general improvement of their working conditions in regard to the remunerations, as paid in companies established in the United States or in Canada.

Closing the gap between a salary in Mexico and another that is earned in the United States or Canada would take 50 years, said Héctor de la Cueva, coordinator of the CILAS [Center for Labor Research and Union Consulting] and advisor of the National Independent  Union of Automotive Industry Workers (SINTTIA).

“The balance of the Treaty in regard to labor is not only related to Chapter 23, which came to significantly and effectively reinforce the topic of union freedom, but there is a problem: despite progress in union freedom, it has not yet translated into a reduction in the gap between the labor standards in the three countries.

“One of the reasons why an increase in union freedom was fostered was the assumption that this would allow combating social dumping, that is, the comparative advantage that Mexico has in regard to its low salaries and low labor standards compared to those in the United States and Canada, and seen this way, we are very far from this being achieved”, he emphasized.

Using the USMCA Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, 24 labor complaints and two panels have been filed, the panels being the one at the Mina San Martín, which has already been resolved, and the one at Atento, which is still open  

It is expected that the use of this instrument will be discussed in the review of the Treaty in 2026.

Pablo Franco, a labor lawyer and advisor of the Mexican Workers Union League, an organization that has filed various labor complaints, considered it necessary that the Mechanism be strengthened because in some cases it has been capable of reverting violations to collective rights.

“We have a generalized climate of violation to collective rights.

“In the case of Mexico, it is very important that companies acknowledge their obligation of remaining neutral in regard to the exercise of union freedom”, Franco pointed out.

De la Cueva exemplified that SINTTIA has achieved one of the highest increases in the automotive industry, with General Motors (9.7 percent), after the complaint against the company was resolved.

Under Pressur

For the employer’s sector, the mechanism has worked as an instrument of pressure, in addition to creating reputational damage for the companies.

“From the complaints that have taken place, we have detected that there are Mexican NGOs or American unions that have abused the concept.

“That is, that there is an agenda or that the suit has not progressed through the Mexican labor courts as they expect, and this has become a fast track of pressure for companies”, said Ricardo Barbosa, president of the Coparmex [Employers’ Confederation of the Mexican Republic] Labor Commission.

Óscar de la Vega, a labor lawyer, agreed that the lack of regulation of the Rapid Response Mechanism has caused workers to use it as a mechanism for applying pressure on companies with the objective of obtaining individual economic benefits.

“The Mexican government must find a way to delimit and/or regulate the use of this Mechanism to specific violations and, above all, regulate the internal investigation process with the objective of ensuring transparency and certainty for companies and workers in regard to the timings and specific steps in each case”, he stated.

In three years that the SINTTIA has been that company’s union, it has achieved an improvement  in labor conditions of over 30 percent, and this demonstrates the effectiveness of labor complaints, De la Cueva said.

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