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Mexico's labour reforms set to bring greater union democracy

2 May, 2019The Mexican Senate has approved a new Labour Bill. While the new legislation will be a step forward for union democracy, it does not cover key issues such as outsourcing.

The House of Deputies passed the reform on 11 April, and the bill was approved by the Senate on 29 April.

The new act represents a complete overhaul of labour relations and will give workers better access to labour justice and greater freedom of association; it will also make it easier for them to form democratic unions.  

Under the reforms, workers will be free to choose which union to join and will be able to elect their union leaders through an individual, free, secret and direct ballot.

For many years, when elections did take place, the vote was by show of hands. This meant that workers were often forced to vote in front of corrupt, pro-employer unions that had their henchmen at the ready. This put a lot of pressure on workers and prevented them from freely electing their leaders.

Workers will have to be consulted both when the collective agreements are drafted and during the re-negotiations that will be take place every two years. This will also involve an individual, free and secret ballot, which will help to eliminate the so-called employer protection contracts.

Furthermore, a federal office for conciliation and union registration will be created. This decentralized public entity will be tasked with keeping a national register of all collective agreements and all trade unions.

For many years, the federal government, employers and corrupt unions used the conciliation and arbitration boards to decide which unions should be included in the register. As a result, political and economic interests took precedence over those of workers. These boards will now be replaced by labour tribunals within the judicial branch, and proceedings should be shorter, more open and more efficient.

Despite this progress, the labour reform has been the subject of much debate within unions, as it does not take into account certain issues that are crucial for Mexico's workers.  In particular, there has been no amendment of the provisions concerning outsourcing, which are especially problematic for workers and their rights.

According to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, Mexican Senator, leader of IndustriALL affiliate Los Mineros, as well as IndustriALL regional co-chair, the Senate intends to review these outstanding issues in consultation with business and union leaders, lawyers and other experts.

"We would like to stress to our affiliates throughout the world that this is a huge opportunity to bring democracy to the union movement in Mexico. With this reform, it will be practically impossible to set up employer protection agreements, as all collective agreements will have to be voted on by workers,"

said IndustriALL Global Union's general secretary, Valter Sanches.