Mexico: unions protest “labor reform” proposal

Thousands of workers, many of them affiliated with the National Workers Union (UNT), Mexico’s largest independent labor federation, marched from the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City to the Chamber of Deputies on the afternoon of March 31 to protest a proposed reform of the labor code. Union leaders said the legislation “intends to finish off collective contracts and make the workers modern slaves.” Martín Esparza, general secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), called on workers to stay alert, because the politicians plan “to sacrifice us during Holy Week”—a reference to the possibility that Congress will try to pass the law the week of April 18, when many people are taking Easter vacation. The head of the telephone workers’ union, Francisco Hernández Juárez, called for a nationwide mobilization on April 7 to step up the pressure on the legislators. (El Sol de México, April 1)

Legislators from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) proposed the reform on March 10. The center-right National Action Party (PAN), which has been pushing for changes to the labor code for years, is backing the PRI proposal. Together the two parties have enough votes in Congress to pass the legislation, and President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a member of the PAN, would presumably endorse it.

The unions say the reform would, among other things, weaken collective bargaining by favoring individual contracts; reduce costs to the employer in cases of unfair dismissals by limiting the payment of lost wages to no more than 12 months; in effect abolish the concept of a minimum wage and allow for the employer to impose work conditions with no possibility for review; and allow the employer to adjust working hours, regardless of whether this is stipulated in a contract.

One especially contentious change concerns the regulation of subcontracting, outsourcing and temporary employment. Matteo Dean, a researcher at the Labor Research and Union Consulting Center (CILAS), says the reform’s goal is not to regulate subcontracting but to give it legal support, “to water down the responsibilities of the company benefiting from subcontracting and to make a joke of workers’ rights, since the basic guarantees to avoid abuse of these rights aren’t established clearly and concretely.” Dean stressed the importance of subcontracted workers’ rights at a time when it is estimated that 40% of all employees are working under some form of subcontracting, up from just 8% in 2004. (International Metalworkers’ Federation, March 21; La Jornada, Mexico, April 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 3.

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