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Mexican Senate approves labour law reforms

24 October, 2016On 13 October 2016 the Mexican Senate unanimously approved an initiative that amends Articles 107 and 123 of the Mexican Constitution, paving the way for a significant advance for workers in the country.

The proposed reforms would eliminate the so-called tripartite conciliation and arbitration boards (Juntas de Conciliación y Arbitraje) and transfer their legal functions to the judicial branch. It means that labour justice is no longer directly in the hands of the President of the Republic, complicit Governors and employer-dominated unions (charro unions).

The call to dissolve the conciliation and arbitration boards and establish independent labour tribunals has been a core demand of Mexican democratic unions and the international trade union movement for decades and is contained in IndustriALL and ITUC’s complaint no. 2694 before the Freedom of Association Committee of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In addition, the reform’s requirements for secret, personal and free ballot votes on collective bargaining agreements and majority representation, address the pervasive problem of employer-dominated protection contracts, which are negotiated without the participation or even the knowledge of workers.

The Senate reform also modifies language regarding the strike authorizations in Art.123.A.XVIII. which after heated debate now reads “when a collective bargaining agreement is sought, the representation of the workers must be demonstrated”. In Mexican law the strike demand is the legal prerequisite for any collective bargaining to take place.  The new language was disputed strongly by the right wing parties and the chamber of employers. The proposed reforms may still face opposition from both business interests and some employer-dominated unions. The next steps foreseen are:

  1. The Constitutional reforms must still be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Chamber of Deputies and ratified by a majority of the states, which should happen between December 2016 and February 2017.
  2. Changes to the Federal Labour Law to implement the Constitutional reforms and further address the problem of protection contracts and procedures for union representation elections were submitted by the President in April and must be enacted separately.
  3. The Senate has not yet voted on ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining, which was forwarded by the President last year with a request for ratification.

Effective and timely implementation of the reforms is still a big concern. As Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, the leader of IndustriALL affiliate Los  Mineros, stated clearly at the ILO Conference in June 2016, the positive amendments of this latest reform, should not keep the Mexican Government from immediately resolving all the pending cases related to the right of Mexican workers to choose their unions and leadership at their workplaces. IndustriALL submitted an updated list of these cases to the ILO Committee of Experts last month.

“This approved labour reform could be historic, because it essentially responds to the demands of democratic unions in Mexico, such as los Mineros, and the international labour movement. The bottom line is to test it and apply transparency in daily practice of working life in the country,” said Napoleon Gomez Urrutia recently in La Jornada.

IndustriALL Global Union’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: “IndustriALL and its Mexican affiliated unions welcomes this important first step taken by the Mexican Senate, which could lead to the eradication of protection contracts in the country. IndustriALL, the international trade union movement and democratic unions in Mexico will continue to closely follow the debates and developments and to pressure the ILO to provide technical assistance to the Government of Mexico to ensure these reforms truly provide access to freedom of association and collective bargaining for all Mexican workers.”