Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mexico

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mexico, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 1 June 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: 107,449,525
Capital: Mexico City
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Two trade unionists were arbitrarily arrested. The illegal dismissal of a trade union leader by the government led to a major demonstration by miners, followed by a strike, which was repressed and resulted in two deaths and 41 injuries. Anti-union strategies are continuing to be deployed in the textile and electronics maquiladoras.

Trade union rights in law

Registration of unions: No prior authorisation is required to create a trade union. To obtain legal status, however, the unions must be registered in the Register of Associations, an office of the Labour and Social Protection Secretariat. The authorities may decline to "take note" of a request if they consider that the union has breached or does not meet the requirements established in the Federal Labour Law (Ley Federal del Trabajo). That judgement involves an examination of trade union procedures. Although it is possible to appeal against an inspector's report, there is no legal recourse for changing it or requiring that a new inspection be carried out. An unregistered union cannot call a strike or participate in collective agreements, and is excluded from all tripartite committees.

Foreigners may not become members of trade union executive bodies.

Despite the ILO's repeated request, the State has still not fulfilled its promise to ratify Convention 98.

Restrictions in the public sector: The law imposes a trade union monopoly on State employees, prohibiting the coexistence of two or more unions in the same State body. Workers are obliged to join unions affiliated to the public service union, the Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores al Servicio del Estado (FSTSE). State employees may not leave their union. Public sector trade union officials may not stand for re-election.

The law also imposes a trade union monopoly on bank workers, who may only belong to the National Federation of Banking Unions.

Restrictions on right to strike: Clause XVIII of Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution states that "strikes shall be legal when their purpose is to establish equilibrium between the diverse factors of production, harmonising the rights of labour with those of capital. In the public services workers shall be required to provide ten days' notice to the conciliation and arbitration board (Junta de Conciliación y Arbitraje, JCA), of the proposed date on which work is to be suspended. Strikes shall be regarded as illegal only where the majority of the strikers carry out violent attacks on persons or property, or, in the event of war, where the former belong to government bodies and departments".

Employees in the public service may only call a strike in the event of the general and systematic violation of their rights set out in the Constitution. They must have the support of two thirds of the workers in the public body concerned. The law also enables the government to requisition workers in a national emergency, including when it is caused by an industrial dispute.

Trade union rights in practice

Trade union monopoly, protection contracts and exclusion clauses: The Supreme Court of Justice ruled in 1999 that the imposition of a trade union monopoly in the public sector was a violation of the freedom of association as set out in the Constitution. The government has yet to bring the law into line with this ruling.

Deficiencies in the Federal Employment Law have been exploited in order to create false collective agreements called "protection contracts". These contracts consist of an agreement whereby the company pays a monthly sum to the union. In exchange, the union guarantees industrial peace. The exclusion clauses in these protection contracts give pro-management unions the right to demand the dismissal of certain workers. These clauses are often used to obtain the illegal dismissal of workers who prefer free trade unions. It has been noted that most protection contracts are signed by lawyers' clients who represent so called trade unions. There are even websites containing "model contracts" that employers simply need to modify.

Precarious contracts: Many education, media, government agency and maquiladora workers, and the researchers at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, are employed through "civil contracts for the provision of professional services" and are obliged, in some instances, to sign a declaration to acknowledge that these are not employment contracts. Under these terms, they are not legally permitted to organise or join a union, can only become members of civil associations, and do not have the right to take strike action or negotiate collective agreements.

Maquiladoras: opposition to the establishment of democratic trade unions: Maquiladoras are continuing to exploit local workforces and increasing numbers of indigenous workers are swelling the ranks of this category of insecure workers. Whilst depicted as a "necessary evil" for reducing unemployment, maquiladoras are characterised by unpaid overtime, sexual harassment, discrimination in employment, non-existent health and safety precautions, unfair dismissals and the denial of any organising rights. The dismissal of pregnant women workers is also endemic. The sub-contracting of women workers is frequently used as a means of avoiding any responsibilities. Blacklists containing the names of trade unionists who should not be recruited are regularly passed around the factories. The sector is currently facing the worst crisis in its history, since hundreds of maquiladoras have fled Mexico to set up operations in China or Central America.

Violation of trade union autonomy: Establishing an independent trade union, in other words a union that is not controlled by the employers, can resemble an obstacle course. The difficulties associated with obtaining legal status are used by the government to deny a union the right to register or to give preference to a particular union leader over another.

Employers themselves sometimes set up a union, although workers may not even know there is a union in their factory. They have come to be known as "ghost" unions, because there are no meetings, no elections and no collective bargaining.

Another type of interference in trade union autonomy is when the government itself intervenes in decisions to appoint or dismiss trade union leaders.

Undermining of the right to strike: Every year, thousands of strikes are called, of which only 0.3 per cent go ahead. The Labour Secretary claims that this is an indication of "industrial peace". In reality, the explanation lies in the complexity of the mechanisms for calling a strike and the workers' lack of confidence that the State will fulfil its obligation to defend the right to strike. In addition, employers often turn to the local conciliation and arbitration boards (JLCAs) to request that strikes be declared illegal, accusing the organisers of violating their own union statutes.

To prevent strikes from being declared illegal, employees constantly have to ensure that the employers do not remove the machinery from the plants. The State or employers often deploy tactics to have a strike declared illegal, such as hiring strike breakers to provoke acts of violence and calling on government forces. Another ploy is to draw out the procedure for as long as five years by filing never-ending lawsuits to break the workers' resolve and make it impossible for them to meet their own and their families' needs.

The government has also resorted to "requisitioning", which in practice means calling on government forces or strike breakers to take over the operations in workplaces. According to Article 123 of the Constitution, requisition is only permitted in times of war.

Repression and police violence attacking the work and lives of trade unionists: The last year of Vicente Fox's government was marked by an increase in the use of brute force to suppress various forms of social protest. The disproportionate repression of the miners' strike in April was followed by brutal police violence in San Salvador de Atenco in early May and culminated in the wave of repression that engulfed Oaxaca throughout the second half of the year. There were innumerable cases of arrests, murders, brutality, violence and sexual abuse, injured and beaten persons, etc. Many trade unionists were the victims of such actions.

The government was, in effect, legitimising violence as a means of resolving political and social disputes. Thus, labour activists and trade unionists in particular found that their struggles to defend their rights and demands were putting their freedom of expression and assembly and even their physical integrity at risk. Within that insecure environment, trade union action was undermined by the threats to the activists' jobs and their lives.

Violations in 2006

Background: On 2 July the presidential elections were held in Mexico. There were many accusations of fraud during the elections, so when the new President, Felipe Calderón, officially assumed office in early December, it was in contentious circumstances. Chiapas has remained a conflict zone and the representatives of the EZLN have continued to suffer state-sponsored violence. There has been a general feeling of discontent that has taken the form of social protests throughout the country, which the government has opposed with brutal repression rather than looking for real solutions to the disputes.

Arrests and attacks on union leaders: At the start of the year, Martín Barrios Hernández, the Chairman of the Human and Trade Union Rights Committee of Tehuacan was still imprisoned in Puebla. He was released on 12 January, two weeks after being arrested by the state police after being accused of blackmail by the owner of the maquiladora Calidad de Confecciones SA de CV (see 2006 Survey). Many labour activists around the world had signed a petition to the governor of Puebla to drop the charges against Barrios, who had helped the workers at the company organise themselves and defend their rights.

Further arrests took place this year. On 13 July, members of the Protection and Highway Administration Secretariat arrested the lawyer and union leader William Santos Sáenz, who complained that he was then tortured and threatened with death by agents of the state police (PJE). That day had seen protests by 37 farmers from the Community of Caucel, in Mérida, against the state government, which was threatening to seize their communal lands and hand them over to business people. The arrested union leader has been defending these communal lands on behalf of the farmers.

On 9 August, Professor Germán Mendoza Nube, a member of Local 22 of the CNTE, a founder of the Teachers Commission for Human Rights (COMADH) and a leader of the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), was arrested on his way home and brutally beaten despite being in a wheelchair. The arrest was carried out by more than 30 plainclothes officers of the Ministerial Police.

Dismissal of a union leader violates trade union autonomy: On 17 February, the General Secretary of the national miners' union SNTMMSRM, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, was dismissed from his post on the orders of Minister of Labour Francisco Javier Salazar, who proceeded to impose the appointment of Elías Morales Hernández. The government also froze the bank accounts of the union, without taking the correct legal measures in such cases. There were a number of other illegal or irregular practices deployed in this case, such as the forging of the signature of one of the members of the executive committee, in a document supporting the appointment of the new leader.

These events, which were clear examples of direct government interference in trade union affairs, which amounts to violation of trade union autonomy, provoked a wave of protests by miners across the country.

The union leader who was replaced had been a leading critic of the government and the transnational company Grupo México for their role in the Carbón 8 mine disaster in Pasta de Conchos, in which 65 miners died. In addition, the leader imposed by the government is not recognised by the workers since he has no record of defending their interests. He had been expelled from the union five years earlier.

Right to strike violated through a mixture of repression, murders and intimidation: Two miners died and 41 were injured, including two seriously, following the brutal evacuation on 20 April of the mining company Lázaro Cárdenas Las Truchas (Sicartsa), where the workers had been on strike and holding a sit-in since 2 April demanding the recognition of the trade union leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia and the withdrawal of that recognition from the imposed leader. In a disproportionate attack, 800 federal and state police were sent to confront around 500 workers. One of the workers who died was Héctor Álvarez Gómez, a trade union representative on the joint committee at Mittal Steel.

Employees of the Federal Workers' Council (Junta Obrera Federal) complained in late November that 100 armed police has turned up threaten workers who were planning a one hour stoppage to denounce the violation of their rights. The workers were complaining because wage increases had been frozen and other benefits had been cut. They were also trying to obtain legal recognition of their collective agreement.

Widespread violence and a governance crisis in Oaxaca: Throughout the second half of the year a series of labour, human rights and international and national trade union organisations have condemned the wave of repression against the organisations protesting in Oaxaca. Those organisations include the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), via their representatives in local branches, who have led these actions jointly with the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca in support of their demands for more state investment to strengthen public education. The government has not been seeking peaceful forms of negotiation or dialogue but has instead been making excessive use of the police forces to suppress all the demonstrations; dozens of arrests have been reported and at least three people have died as a result of the uncontrolled violence.

Anti-union campaign at the Children's Hospital in Puebla: On 25 March, the union at the Children's Hospital in Puebla complained about a campaign comprising unfair dismissals, threats, harassment and failure to apply the collective agreement. Two members of the union were dismissed. One of them was locked in an office for a number of hours and forced to sign a letter leaving the union. She was also threatened with being accused of having been responsible for the death of a patient.

Anti-union strategies in the maquiladoras: The union at the Mexmode factory in Puebla (SITEMEX) complained in March that the Human Resources Director was trying to set up a union of "trusted employees" belonging to FROC-CROC.

The independent trade union at the Lajat factory in Gómez Palacios won a court case concerning the unfair dismissal of 56 workers in November 2005 (see 2006 Survey) and also gained official recognition of the trade union. However, the workers will not be reinstated as the factory has already closed down.

Workers' and trade union rights violated in the electronics industry: The Workers' Study and Action Centre CEREAL had received 578 complaints from workers by September concerning violations of workers' rights in companies including HP, Dell, IBM, Intel, Nokia, Philips, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, IBM and Sony. The most common breaches included cutting back collective agreements and obstructing collective bargaining together with cases of discrimination, exposure to toxic substances, sexual harassment and other forms of ill-treatment.

De-recognition of the leadership of a union: The Conciliation and Arbitration Tribunal (TCAE) agreed to reject the results of the elections of the civil servants' union STPE, without hearing the views of the elected leadership. The union that had lost the elections had sent a letter to the TCAE on 28 May contesting the new leadership. The ruling meant that the Executive Committee was not recognised, which provoked criticism from the World Confederation of Labour and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, who saw this as a discriminatory and biased move, undermining the trade union representatives chosen by 4,300 workers.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld