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Mexican workers’ deaths sharpen labour debate in NAFTA

27 November, 2017The killing of two Mexican employees of a Canadian company has increased tension at the fifth round of NAFTA negotiations. Trade unions in Canada and the United States are calling for better labour standards in Mexico.

The fifth round of negotiations between the United States, Mexico and Canada on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Mexico City ended on 21 November without an agreement on the most controversial issues.

Unresolved issues include calls for Mexico to improve its labour standards so that the three countries can negotiate on a level playing field.

Discussion of this issue became more contentious after news of the killing of two Mexican employees of the Canadian company Torax Gold Resources at the Media Luna mine. IndustriALL Canadian affiliate UNIFOR,  IndustriALL Canadian and Northamerican affiliate United Steelworkers (USW, representing both US and Canadian workers), and IndustriALL Mexican affiliate Los Mineros have vigorously called on the Mexican government to halt the constant attacks on freedom of association.

Jerry Dias, UNIFOR president and advisor at the NAFTA talks, called on the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to improve working conditions and prevent violations of the freedom of association if he wants to continue with the free trade agreement:

I challenge Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to show courage and do the right thing by accepting the proposed NAFTA labour reforms to guarantee the right to free association and free collective bargaining. UNIFOR will never support NAFTA without labour reform in Mexico.

The trade union leader also referred to the recent increase in the minimum wage in Mexico to 88 Mexican pesos per day (US$6), which is well below union demands and leaves Mexican workers below the poverty line.

This does nothing to achieve balanced trading relations. There is no way that United States and Canadian workers can compete with their counterparts if they are paid just a few cents per hour.

The USW has asked the Canadian government to demand improved labour standards during NAFTA, and urged it to ask Mexican authorities and the company to recognize the basic rights of Mexican workers, and avoid further violence:

"We are once again urging the Canadian government to intervene with Mexican authorities and the company to recognize the basic rights of Mexican workers and prevent further violence. The Mexican government and this Canadian company must ensure this conflict is resolved without further bloodshed."

Finally, the president of Los Mineros, Napoléon Gómez Urrutia, condemned the cowardly attack on workers at the Media Luna mine, demanding that perpetrators be prosecuted and that the government cancel the foreign company’s mining concession:

The governments of Canada and Mexico must act quickly to ensure justice in this dispute, at a time when the North American Free Trade Agreement is being renegotiated.