by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia
Published Thursday, 14th January 2016
In the context of the negotiations over the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TTP), the new free trade agreement with the European Union, the pressures from the United States and the demands on global unions and Mexican democratic unions, the government has taken a series of actions to clean up Mexico’s image when it comes to labour rights and has proposed various initiatives in this area of economic and social policy.
We, the true miners of Mexico, have for some years now been declaring and insisting, along with specialists in labour law such as Néstor de Buen and Carlos de Buen, Arturo Alcalde Justiniani and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD), among other national and international organizations, such as the IndustriALL Global Union, the AFL-CIO and the Mexican UNT, that it is necessary to construct a state of inclusive, democratic law through constitutional reforms, which in labour terms means the disappearance of the Conciliation and Arbitration Councils, on the federal and the state level, which should be replaced by independent labour judges from the Executive Power.
We have also called for transparency in collective bargaining agreements and union registers at all levels, establishing an independent body that would oversee registration and the recognition of unions and collective bargaining agreements, forcing business owners to supply workers with a copy of their contract and demanding that the basic documents of union associations be made public, such as their statutes and membership lists.
Just as importantly, we have asked that it be made impossible for collective bargaining agreements to be settled without verifying that they have been ratified by the majority of workers. Lastly, we have demanded that the voting process be made faster when employees ask to change union, establishing deadlines for the procedural steps, stipulating that a business owner’s objections should be resolved before the recount is finalized.
Some of the responses from the government have been positive, for example in the press conference on November 23, 2015 when the Minister for Labour, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, announced a new Labour Inspection Protocol “to verify that workers understand their contracts, the negotiations that have taken place and, if it should be the case, flag up any violations.” Meanwhile, on 30 November of the same year, President Enrique Peña Nieto sent the Senate of the Republic a request to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 98, which prohibits those “means that tend to promote the construction of worker organizations dominated by an employer or an organization of employers,” that is to say employer, as opposed to labour, protection contracts.
On 5 December, during the XIX Inter-American Conference of Labour Ministers which took place in Cancún, Quintana Roo, the President announced a new labour reform in the context of his initiative of “everyday justice” as a specific proposal from the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), which “will propose a revision of the system of labour justice, including the transformation and modernization of the Conciliation and Arbitration Councils on the federal and state level”, since they are currently underperforming and have serious operational problems, allow pressure and complicity with companies, as well as manipulating the voting process as they please or according to interests that are totally alien to the working class.
On this topic, the government has organized the creation of round tables to look at labour justice and listen to comments from the public, but this unfortunately does not include representatives from the working class, which means that it will be a severely limited consultation, with the ensuing labour reform project necessarily being born with this deficit.
Reality, therefore, contrasts with the incorrect application of labour justice in what seems to be a strategy of double language, double morals and putting on a show of responding to international pressures and commitments. On 15 October, the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Council (JFCA) carried out a vote at the Japanese assembly plant Honda in El Salto, Jalisco, after delaying the workers’s demand for 4 years, allowing the company and the CTM to intimidate, threaten and sack those who had shown themselves to be independent. On 10 December, the same JFCA postponed once more the union vote at the company Arneses y Accesorios, subsidiary of the Finnish company PKC in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, where workers have been demanding for over 3 years that they be allowed a free, secret ballot to get rid of the CTM and its leader in Coahuila, Tereso Medina.
It is worth mentioning that although since April 2015 the same council had ordered the reinstatement of four PKC union leaders who were fired unjustifiably and for political reasons since 2012, the company put pressure on the JFCA itself to stop the order being carried out.
Also this month, workers at the company Lexmark and other assembly plants in Cuidad Juárez, Chihuahua, have risen up against the brutal conditions that prevail in the plants. The response from the Municipal President has been to threaten the lawyers who accompany them with criminal lawsuits “for extortion”, in other words, for defending the constitutional rights of the working class.
There are many cases of abuses, threats and even criminal acts by some Mexican and foreign business people, but labour and political authorities turn a blind eye and pretend not to know about these serious and outrageous injustices.
They pretend that corruption, cynicism, ignorance, indifference and insensitivity toward social needs overcome a supposedly obsolete model, and all simply to put an end to democratic unions and attempts to exercise constitutional rights and move forward in the creation of healthy and independent organizations.
For a long time now, the country’s labour authorities, instead of representing the rights of workers, as was the case in the best times of the Ministry of Labour, have become the protectors and staunch defenders of corporate interests. To the misfortune of Mexico and its people’s future, values have been inverted.
The announced reforms are welcome, so let us hope they are not merely another simulation. But if the government really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to the democratic rights of workers, it could start by immediately resolving those conflicts and the many many more which exist in Mexico today. That would be a real step towards democracy and transparency in a true and correct application of everyday, permanent labour justice.