Unions file NAFTA labor complaint against Mexico government
Unions file NAFTA labor complaint against Mexico government

[JURIST] The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) [union website] and Mexico’s National Workers Union (MNWU) filed a complaint [text, PDF] with the US National Administrative Office (NAO) [DOL backgrounder] Thursday claiming that Mexico is preparing to undermine its own labor laws, adding to decades of alleged non-compliance with its labor obligations under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) [materials].

The organizations’ primary issue with Mexico’s approach to labor rights are so-called “protection contracts,” a form of collective bargaining agreements that are made between employers and worker unions “without the involvement or even knowledge of the workers the union is supposed to represent.” The complaint alleges that, at times, these agreements are reached before the employer has even hired a single employee represented by the relevant union. AFL-CIO and MNWU argue that these agreements “lock in low wages and ‘protect’ the employer from having an independent union in its workplace.” When workers attempt to negotiate another bargaining agreement, the complaint states that the employer, the union involved, and the government “collude to intimidate the workers through delays, verbal threats, physical violence and dismissal.”

In 2016 President Enrique Peña Nieto [official website] sent numerous constitutional reforms to the Mexican Senate which the complaint claims addressed some of the issues with Mexico’s labor laws. These reforms were adopted in October 2016 and entered into force in February 2017. However, the reforms also required the passing of secondary legislation. Nieto introduced pieces of the required secondary legislation in December. This legislation, AFL-CIO and MNWU argue, is aimed at undermining the new protections afforded to unions under the 2017 reforms and are in violation of Mexico’s obligations to “provide high labor standards” and to “strive to improve these standards” under NAALC.

AFL-CIO and MNWU are asking NAO to take action to dissuade Mexico from enacting this secondary legislation, or, in the alternative, seek to repeal or amend the legislation to bring it in conformity with the NAALC. Lastly, they “urge the United States to work with Mexico … to develop a process for expedited challenges to protections contracts and to facilitate an environment for workers to elect freely the representatives of their choosing.”

The complaint comes as the sixth round of NAFTA overhaul negotiations are taking place [Reuters report] in Montreal. Representatives from Mexico and Canada have stated that the US representatives have been inflexible with their demands for more North American content to be included in automobiles and a “sunset clause” which would allow for any party to remove itself from the agreement after 5 years. That parties are facing a March deadline to reach an agreement in terms of restructuring NAFTA.