The Bata shoe company, a multinational that holds itself up as a paragon of responsible capitalism, is responsible for the detention without bail of one Mexican worker and the threat of imminent arrest of eight others for doing nothing more than demanding that the company end the lock-out of its workforce.
Calzado Sandak, a Bata subsidiary, closed its doors illegally four years ago claiming that the plant was unviable. It has now brought criminal charges against the workers who have been picketing outside the plant ever since, accusing them of ‘extortion’. The General Secretary of the union, Gustavo Labastida Adriano is currently in jail and seven of his colleagues, most of whom have worked at the plant for many years, could be arrested at any time.
“There is a cruel irony here”, says Mr. Raina. “Bata has been able to ignore labour law that protects workers’ rights, and use criminal law to coerce them into giving up their legitimate struggle”.
“In truth, this is a case not of extortion on the part of workers, but of coercion on the part of the company in collusion with the authorities”, explains Mr. Raina. “Although the law says bail for a worker cannot exceed a day’s wages, in this case it has been set at over 2 million dollars. It would take Gustavo 600 years to earn that amount – assuming he still had a job”.
The Mexican labour authorities may be dysfunctional (at this year’s International Labour Conference, Mexico was shortlisted for review of its application of labour standards alongside countries such as Belarus, Swaziland, Bangladesh and Guatemala), but Mexican law is clear: a company must seek approval from the authorities before conducting mass dismissals for economic reasons; the employment relationship therefore remains in effect until terminated through a court ruling or an agreement between the parties.
The company claimed it was forced to close the plant because of low productivity, but here again the workers tell a very different story. They say management took bad decisions, using cut-price materials and outsourcing work to local workshops. In order to safeguard the remaining jobs, the union reached an agreement on productivity, but the company failed to uphold its side of the bargain and closed the factory down overnight.
Says Mr. Raina: “It is surely no coincidence that in a country known for promoting fake unions in order to deny the rights of independent ones, Calzado Sandak was one of the few manufacturing plants where workers had both an independent union and a collective agreement”.
“Nor is it any surprise that the Mexican authorities have played along with the company every step of the way, including accepting the company’s lies that the factory closed because the workers went on strike”.
IndustriALL Global Union has called on top executives of the Swiss-based multinational to recognize the workers as Bata employees, to drop all charges against them and to travel to Mexico to negotiate in good faith in order to resolve the conflict swiftly and justly. The global union has asked for an urgent meeting with the company to discuss the case.