Mexico: center-right bloc pushes ‘labor reform’

After a 14-hour session, the Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress voted in the early morning of Sept. 29 to approve major changes to the 1970 Federal Labor Law (LFT). The 346-60 vote in the 500-member Chamber was pushed through by an alliance of the governing center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). There was one abstention, and many deputies from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) walked out of the session in protest before the vote. The measure, which was passed under a special “fast-track” provision, now goes to the Senate, which must act on it within 30 days.

The PAN has been pushing for changes to the LFT for years, with the strong support of business owners. The PRI, which has a base among old-line union bureaucrats, switched to supporting “labor reform” in April 2011. Both current president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, from the PAN, and the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, who succeeds Calderón on Dec. 1, back the new measure.

The last issue to be settled before the changes passed was a proposal from the PAN and the PRD for the new law to mandate direct, universal and secret elections of union leaders. The PRI and its satellite party, the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM), blocked with the small New Alliance Party (PANAL) to crush the proposal; the vote was 248-187 with one abstention. PANAL’s leader in the Chamber, Deputy Lucila Garfias Gutiérrez, charged that the proposal would violate constitutional protections for union autonomy; the PANAL is headed by Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, a former PRI leader who has held the presidency of the country’s largest union, the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), since 1989.

The changes—billed as “flexibilization” and a way to create some 150,000 new jobs each year—would eliminate many protections Mexican workers have under current law, although the law is often not enforced. The new measure would allow businesses to pay workers by the hour rather than for a full day; to hire employees for trial or training periods and then lay them off; and to outsource some of the work. The “reform” would place additional limits on the right to strike, and employers would only have to pay a maximum of 12 months’ lost wages in cases of unfair dismissals. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 29, Sept. 30; Reuters, Sept. 29; Los Angeles Times, Sept. 27, from correspondent)

Labor lawyers Alfonso Bouzas and Carlos de Buen denounced the new law as something that “will affect the whole structure of Mexican labor law and return the country to 1910″—that is, to the period before the Mexican Revolution brought about major gains for labor. Independent unions protested the changes with several demonstrations in Mexico City during the days before the vote. Some 30,000 workers marched on Sept. 28, according to the organizers, although the Federal District (DF) police put the number at 10,000. Some unions and the #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”) student movement sponsored a sit-in to block entrances to the Chamber of Deputies building in the San Lázaro neighborhood. Deputies resorted to various maneuvers to get in; PVEM deputy Rosa Elba Pérez disguised herself as a police agent. (LJ, Sept. 27, Sept. 28)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 30.