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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mexico

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mexico, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661f5c.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
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: 109,600,000
Capital: Mexico City
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Trade union activists were detained, injured and persecuted, including by state forces, for exercising their rights, particularly in the mining, oil and electricity sectors. Employers promoted yellow unions and continued to deny workers their fundamental rights, especially in the textile sector. "Protection contracts" are becoming increasingly widespread.

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.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: In 2010, Mexico witnessed a rise in the violence related to drug trafficking and organised crime but that also permeates the country's state institutions. The economy continued to flounder and workers saw their basic rights flouted. Corruption cuts across the state apparatus and the corporate sector. The violence against women remains widespread and diverse. The plight of migrants, faced with continual murders, attacks, rapes and abductions, is a major cause for concern.

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 labour 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.

Violence against strikers at Cananea mine: Some 1,200 workers occupied the Cananea mine following a legal ruling on 11 February granting Grupo Mexico (the country's largest mining company) the right to dismiss the striking workers and cancel their employment contracts, effectively suppressing the right to strike. The miners had been on strike since July 2007 in protest at the gross violations of health and safety standards at the infamously dangerous mine owned by Grupo Mexico.

On 6 June, hours after the Mexican government waged a verbal attack on the strikers at the Cananea mine, 20 patrol vehicles of the security forces in the state of Coahuila escorted Grupo Mexico bosses to shaft number eight of the Pasta de Conchos mine. A detachment of around 2,000 federal police officers entered the town of Cananea. Around 400 of them headed for the mine gates and fired tear gas at the union members who were defending them, allowing the company to retake the mine.

According to the national mine, metal and allied workers' union SNTMMSRM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana), three workers received bullet wounds and others were beaten or suffered the effects of the tear gas. Federal warrants were issued for a number of union leaders including Sergio Tolano Lizárraga, general secretary of Minerso Branch 65, Juan Gutiérrez Ballesteros, a member of the National Executive Committee from the state of Sonora, and Jacinto Martínez, a member of the local Executive Committee. Tolano won an injunction against his arrest warrant. Federal police arrested five trade unionists: Rodolfo Valdez Serrano, Everardo Ochoa Ballesteros, Luis Alonso Borbón Pérez, Luis Alonso Torres and Marcelo Lara López.

On 12 August, the Ninth District Judge in the state of Sonora ruled that the strike organised by the union remained valid despite the forcible removal of striking workers by federal police on 6 June.

On 8 September, some 600 scabs and plainclothes federal police attacked members of the SNTMMSRM who were on strike at mine. The workers were guarding gate two of the mine under the provisional suspension granted to them by the Ninth District Court on 12 August to avoid being evicted from their workplace. The striking miners took refuge in the union hall, where the attack was then resumed. Several people were injured. Another 30 striking miners were illegally and arbitrarily arrested by the Sonora state police.

Trade union rights violations by Mexican maquilas denounced: On 22 February, the telephone workers' union Sindicato de Trabajadores de Teléfonos de Mexico, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM), the Democratic Lawyers' Association (ANAD), and other labour organizations, unions, and allied organisation affiliated to the CJM, presented a complaint to the ILO regarding violations of maquila workers' right to freedom of association at companies such as Sony, Han Young (Hyundai), Custom Trim (GM, Ford and Chrysler), DURO (GAP), LAJAT (Levi's), and KSS (GM, Ford and Chrysler).

Violent attack against strikers affiliated to STRACC: On 23 March, striking workers from the commercial houses, offices, outlets and allied workers' union STRACC (Sindicato de Trabajadores de Casas Comerciales, Oficinas y Expendios, Similares y Conexos del Distrito Federal) were attacked by thirty hired thugs armed with sticks and other weapons at the Belem petrol station where they work. The workers were preparing for the launch of a legal strike that morning, in support of their demand for a better contract.

Complaint lodged with ILO against Mexican government: The ILO has urged the Mexican government to settle the dispute with the mine, metal and allied workers' union SNTMMSRM, and considers that the government has acted in violation of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association. On 26 March, the ILO released the interim recommendations of its Committee on Freedom of Association to the Mexican government in response to a complaint on interference in union autonomy lodged by the SNTMMSRM and the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF).

Solidarity with Mexican miners: The mine, metal and allied workers' union SNTMMSRM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana) has long been persecuted by the federal government. The union has made great efforts to secure real wage increases, but the government's policy of keeping wages low and repressing workers in order to attract foreign investors has led to widespread violations of workers' fundamental rights, such as the right to unionisation, to collective bargaining and to strike. With the signing of a Strategic Alliance on 20 June 2010, SNTMMSRM and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), have taken a step forward in strengthening the defence of Mexican workers' rights.

Agreement reached at Johnson Controls: On 16 August, unknown persons were allowed access, after midnight, to the Johnson Controls Interiors plant (Resurrección) in Puebla, where they threatened workers on the first shift and assaulted them with sticks and stones, leaving many injured. The plant manufactures interior parts for BMW and Ford. Two of the executive members of the newly formed branch of the mine, metal and allied workers' union SNTMMSRM, Cándido Barreucos and Vigilio Melendez, were beaten in a company office and forced to sign letters of resignation at gunpoint. The attacks led to a four-day protest strike, with workers picketing outside the plant.

On 20 August, SNTMMSRM and the local management reached an agreement offering reinstatement to the two workers who were forced to resign, compensation to six workers who were injured, and a pledge from the company to examine the case of two of the local Johnson Controls supervisors who were present during the beating of the two union leaders.

According to the SNTMMSRM, the assailants were linked to COS (Confederación de Organizaciones Sindicales), the company-controlled union that had signed a "protection contract" with the company and was rejected by the workers after a three-day strike in May.

The agreement reached on 20 August also set out a timetable for the company to rescind the "protection contract" with COS and formally recognize the SNTMMSRM as the workers' legitimate representative.

Sackings, repression and intimidation at La Platosa mine: After being notified about the formation of a new union, a bitter campaign against its members was launched by the management at La Platosa mine in La Sierrita, Durango, owned by the Canadian company Excellon Resources Inc. One hundred out of the 123 workers at the mine had chosen to form a local branch union in November and to affiliate with the national miners' and metal workers' union SNTMMSRM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana). On 13 December, the management dismissed Jorge Mora, the leader of the local union, on trumped-up grounds. It also exerted pressure on his colleagues, offering them bribes to sign letters stating their disinterest in the newly formed union. Several workers who withstood the pressure and rejected the bribes offered by management to sign the letters were threatened and penalised.

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of SNTMMSRM, still in exile: Napoleón Gómez Urrutia was re-elected for another four-year term at the 36th Ordinary Congress of the mine, metal and allied workers' union SNTMMSRM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana), held in Mexico City in May. Gómez is still living in exile in Vancouver, Canada, as the Mexican government continues to pursue its sham legal process against him. On 15 December, a federal tribunal definitively cleared Napoleón Gómez Urrutia of a charge filed by the Public Prosecutor's Office for alleged money laundering.

Various prosecutors in the country have filed eight charges against Gómez Urrutia over the past four years, only one of which now remains in force. He is still faced with an arrest warrant for an alleged banking offence. Gómez continues to receive death threats in Vancouver.

General secretary of new union at honda dismissed: Honda workers at the Mexican plant in El Salto, Jalisco, producing CR-V trucks mostly for the U.S. market have struggled for years against a hostile company, a corrupt union and a subservient government. In 2009, they decided to create their own independent union, the united Honda workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Unidos de Honda. The management instantly retaliated with repression and harassment. During 2010, the workers began building a real union to defend their rights, and elected an executive committee, but the local and federal authorities, under pressure from Honda, systematically refused, under whatever pretext, to recognise the democratic union. In December, the union went public with its battle, denouncing the violations of its rights. In retaliation, on 20 December, the management fired a number of union activists, including José Luis Solorio, the general secretary of the new independent union.

CAT members and rights advocates attacked: The "protection contract union" CROM (Confederación Revolucionaria Obrera Mexicana) continued to harass activists from the Workers' Support Centre (CAT), which defends and promotes labour rights in the state of Puebla, and supports a range of unionisation campaigns.

Enrique Morales Montaño, a labour rights advocate for CAT, and two other activists, were the victims of threats and verbal attacks by four individuals, who warned them to stop giving advice to union members. On the night of 20 December, the CAT office was broken in to and vandalised. The intruders painted threatening messages on the office walls and stole the organisation's files as well as electronic and computer equipment. The CAT members called the municipal police, who scorned their appeal for help.

Morales explained that CROM sells "protection contracts" to Johnson Controls, allowing the company to ignore social benefits such as the Christmas bonus, seniority and holiday pay. The workers are not allowed to join the union of their choice and have no knowledge of the self-styled collective agreement, so cannot claim any benefits they may enjoy. The Confederación de Organizaciones Sindicales (COS) is also reported to be selling "protection contracts".

Repression instead of dialogue and respect: Trade union leader Mario García Ortiz was detained and then brutally assaulted by the police. A delegation of union leaders seeking an explanation for the detention were in turn beaten and threatened by the police. Workers at ArcelorMittal downed tools and marched in protest at this attack on their union, branch 271 of the national miners' and metal workers' union SNTMMSRM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana). They were attacked by the federal police in the city of Lázaro Cárdenas, in Michoacán.

Trade union rights trampled at PEMEX: The 30,000 technical and professional employees at PEMEX (Mexico's state-owned petroleum company) had won the right to join the newly registered union of technical and professional petroleum workers UNTyPP (Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros), but were subsequently told to leave the union if they did not want to lose their jobs. After various failed attempts to form an independent union, the PEMEX employees had finally succeeded in registering the union following a battle in the courts. Since then, however, the union members have been pressured, under threat of losing their jobs, to sign two documents, one calling for the union's deregistration and the other a resignation from the union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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