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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Mexico

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Mexico, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 113,400,000
Capital: Mexico City

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Imprisonments: 12
Dismissals: 255

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Anti-union practices by governments and employers have resulted in the detention of union leaders, imprisonment, all kinds of pressure, the non-recognition of independent unions and the promotion of yellow unions, the closure of workplaces, and even the death of workers. There have been several initiatives to reform labour legislation at the federal and state level, always to the detriment of workers' rights and minimum labour standards. The persecution of independent trade unions is constant. Trade unions representing electricians, oil workers and telephone workers amongst others have been the victims of violent attacks, intimidation and repression. Two trade unionists who had been in prison for some time were released during the year thanks to intense pressure at the national and international level.


Mexico still ranks as one of the most violent countries in the world, and consequently one of the worst for human rights violations, with 15,000 violent deaths a year. Legislative measures have not been sufficient to prevent or penalise this violence. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) has issued several historic resolutions on human rights cases, while the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found Mexico guilty of severe human rights violations committed by its armed forces. Many indigenous communities still have limited access to basic services. Five prisoners of conscience were released.

In addition to the political violence, there is a high level of violence in the labour world, together with efforts by the State and employers to use every trick in the book to avoid respecting labour rights, violating the procedures designed to enforce those rights. At the same time they press for changes to labour legislation to introduce more flexible practices, providing fewer guarantees for workers' rights. The poverty and marginalisation in which millions of Mexicans live forces them to accept any job they can to support their families.

Trade union rights in law

Despite some initial guarantees, there are many restrictions on trade union rights in the law. While workers may join and form trade unions, to obtain legal status the unions must be listed in the Register of Associations. There is also a trade union monopoly in the banking sector, where bank workers may only belong to the National Federation of Banking Unions. The authorities may refuse to "take note" of the election of union officers if they consider that the union has breached or does not meet the requirements established in the Federal Labour Law.

Furthermore, while the right to strike is recognised in the Constitution, public service employees may only call a strike in the event of general and systematic violations of their rights. They must also have the support of two thirds of the workers in the public body concerned. In addition, the law enables the government to requisition workers in a national emergency, including when it is caused by an industrial dispute. The National Banking Commission determines the extent of the minimum service in the banking sector without any union involvement.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Protection contracts: "Employer protection contracts" continue to exist. They have been described by the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) as the "most grotesque product of the Mexican labour model". These "protection contracts", that is, bogus collective agreements drawn up by the employers and negotiated behind the workers' backs, then filed with the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board, constitute a violation of trade union rights, as they prevent any real collective bargaining and the possibility of exercising the right to strike. The five sectors where these types of contracts are most common are the auto industry, supermarket chains, cleaning services, low cost airlines and the maquilas.

Employers and government systematically violate trade union rights:

Numerous independent trade unions suffered violent attacks, intimidation and the repression of trade union rights during 2010, such as the mine, metal and allied workers' union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Méxicana (SNTMMSRM), the electricians' union Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME), the union representing professional and technical workers at the state oil company PEMEX, the Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros (UNTyPP), the tire workers' union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de General Tire de México (SNTGTM), the union representing university staff at the UACM, the Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México (SUTUACM), the telephone workers' union Sindicato de Telefonistas de la República Mexicana (STRM), the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) and as many as 30 other organisations affiliated to the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT).

Employers, backed by the government, relentlessly devise and perfect mechanisms to suppress trade union rights. The aim of these widespread violations is to stop workers from organising and to crush or weaken their unions. The result is the proliferation of "protection contracts", repression, threats, and the hiring of thugs to attack organised workers.

Trade unions and "protection contracts" in the maquilas: The maquilas, located on Mexico's northern border, often sign "protection contracts" before a multinational has even launched its operations. These contracts are agreements concluded between a company and a union that only exists on paper, as it has not been chosen by the workers, most of whom are women. As a result, the workers are not informed that they have a union and collective bargaining rights. The workers organising to improve their pay and working conditions find themselves faced with intimidation and repression at the hands of the "paper unions" and the government. Those attempting to defend their rights are labelled troublemakers and risk being blacklisted by the company.

Outsourcing strategies: Both national and state governments have implemented a strategy of outsourcing, whereby workers are contracted through companies which recruit staff to work in factories or other establishments, as a means of preventing employees from claiming the respect of their rights.

Poor labour inspection and lack of social cover:

The labour authorities do not fulfil their obligations in terms of workplace labour inspections. The most vulnerable workers include women and children, many of whom work in the informal economy, with no rights.

According to local conciliation and arbitration boards, the principal complaints against enterprises are about the failure to register workers with the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), excessively long working hours, the non-payment of overtime, transfers to workplaces in remote locations, the docking of wages and no recognition of the right to organise.


Release of imprisoned trade union leaders:

Juan Linares Montufar, President of the General Council for Security and Justice of the National Mine and Metal Workers' Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM), who was imprisoned illegally without bail on 3 December 2008, was released on 14 February 2011. His release came shortly after a campaign by trade unions from 40 countries in support of labour rights in Mexico.

Miguel Márquez, detained by the Puebla state police in 2010, was released in 2011 when members of the Electricians' Union of Mexico (SME) protested in Necaxa against closure of the Luz y Fuerza del Centro company.

Persecution of the Honda workers' union STUHM: When Honda workers began to organise an independent union in February 2010, several of them were dismissed. In March 2011, after various attempts, the District Labour Court ruled in favour of the registration of the Honda Mexico United Workers Union (STUHM), whose application met the requirements set out in the Federal Labour Law. The company appealed against the decision, but it was upheld by the court in August, granting registration. Workers who identify with the union continue to be threatened and dismissed however.

The struggle of the Mexican Electrician's Union (SME):

The Fuerza y Luz company was closed down, arbitrarily and without consultation, in 2009. On 11 April 2011, 12 workers were detained for taking part in protests against the Mexican government's lack of respect for their situation. The government brought 125 criminal prosecutions against workers who took part in the protests. In July, warrants were issued for the arrest of Martín Esparza, General Secretary, Eduardo Bobadilla, Labour Secretary and Amalia Vargas Ríos, legal representative of the Mexican Electricians' Union (SME), on charges of attempted fraud, for trying to make use of the trade union dues deducted by the government since October 2009.

In June elections were held for 26 trade union posts. On 15 July the union asked to be registered by the Department of Labour and Social Security. There was no reply, and so a sit-in was organised in the central square in Mexico City, the "Zocalo". This action was called off when registration was granted. At the end of the year the issue of the dismissals had still not been resolved and the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board continued to drag out the proceedings.

Mine and metal workers' union (SNTMMSRM) struggle continues: The Grupo México mining company sought to its employment relationship with 1,200 workers. In June 2010 the army entered the Cananea mine's premises in Sonora, removing strikers in an attempt to break their strike. The army stayed at the mine and paramilitary personnel have patrolled the town of Cananea ever since then. On 7 June 2011, the Department of Labour and Social Security announced that another trade union organisation and Grupo México had signed a collective agreement governing labour relations at the Cananea mine, allowing for operations to resume. This was despite the fact that the contract that it had signed with the National Mine and Metal Workers' Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM) was still in force. In July a collegiate court handed down a final ruling that the strike was illegal. Afterwards, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of the certification of the mineworkers' union, saying that the authorities should not intervene in the internal affairs of the union. By the end of the year, the certificate of registration ("toma de nota") had still not been issued to the SNTMMSRM leadership. New trade unions, close to the government and the employers, had been registered, however.

Bata closes factory and does not recognise right to strike: On 18 July 2011, workers arriving for the first shift at the Calzado Sandak shoe factory in Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala, found the factory closed. Bata International had closed the plant and dismissed 250 workers, without informing the Calzado Sandak Workers' Union (SUTCS) or the workers, and without the intervention of a labour tribunal. The company advised the workers to become outsourced home workers. Since that date, trade union dues have still been deducted. The SUTCS called a strike to protect its members' jobs, twice submitting the case to the Tlaxcala Conciliation and Arbitration Board, and twice losing its case. The strike broke out on 29 August, and was declared illegal by the Board on 21 September. The union appealed and the strike was declared legal. The company challenged the decision, and the case had not been resolved by the end of the year. The workers have continued their protest.

Deaths of 65 workers remain unsolved: An explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine, owned by Grupo México, on 19 February 2006, killed 65 miners. Nearly five years later, the bodies of 63 of the 65 who died remain buried in the mine and the Government of Mexico has done nothing to investigate the accident or prosecute those responsible. By contrast, it has stepped up its attacks against the Mineworkers Union of Mexico, which is still demanding justice for the industrial homicide committed at Pasta de Conchos and the recovery of the miners' bodies.

Forced labour: At the beginning of 2011, at the shop "Sam's Club" in Mexico State, a worker about 60 years old was carrying out his work, checking customers' membership I.D. One of the customers could see that something was wrong and asked what it was. The worker pointed to his belt, showing that he was tied up, saying "they have me tethered like a dog". He had been tied up so that he could not leave his work station. The customer demanded that the manager release the worker, warning that it was a violation of his human rights. The manager was immediately moved to another branch to avoid the case being denounced by civil society.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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