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Column 021207 Vallarta

Monday, February 12, 2007


Reflections on Needed Labor Reform in Mexico


By Dr. José Enrique Vallarta Rodríguez


Since 1988 a variety of sectors in Mexico have made numerous efforts to bring about genuine labor reform, however to date they have all failed.  The first proposals to change the Federal Labor Law came from the entrepreneurial organizations CONCANACO and COPARMEX, the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce, Services and Tourism, and the Employers Confederation of the Republic, respectively.


Their central points were needed labor flexibility based on the new concept of globalization of markets and production; modernization of production processes; the need to provide investors with greater trust; and betterment of productivity and quality.


During the 2000-2006 administration of President Vicente Fox some advances were in fact made, in the mutual recognition of “New Labor Culture” productive sectors; and through a moderate relaxation of labor relations; some democratization of labor unions; and the approval of a generalized Occupation Procedures Code in order to ease labor procedures.


On December 12, 2002, a group of legislators from three different political parties submitted a Federal Labor Law reform package to the Chamber of Deputies that, notwithstanding new modifications, was lacking in a consensus from the labor unions involved and, as of yet, it has not been approved.


All of which means that, as of today, we Mexicans do not have a new Federal Labor Law that will stimulate the development and productivity our country needs.


What has happened?  And why hasn’t an agreement been reached?


Some of the reasons:


A.     There has been a serious lack of leadership by the executive branch in initiating legislative processes, and in follow-up on the same.  The federal government, through the Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STPS), has not taken on the leadership position of a conduit and facilitator of labor reform.  During the past three administrations (Carlos Salinas de Gortari, 1988-94; Ernesto Zedillo, 1994-2000; and Vicente Fox, 2000-06) there has been no continuity in public sector policies, or in labor officials.  Since 1988 there have been nine Secretaries of Labor, an extension of the historic fact that top-level appointees to labor sector posts have not been specialists in this field.


B.      The labor reform project has been plagued by inadequacies.  In recent years union officials and members have complained that the proposals drafted by the government and entrepreneurial organizations are limited and insufficient.  This is partially true, as the proposals have been centered on the issue of flexibleness of labor only, and they have not addressed other subjects of equal or greater importance in Mexico, such as the freedom to assemble, hire and to strike; the teaching of justice for workers; salaries; and union corporatism, all of which must be part of any labor reforms.


And some proposals:


1.      The inclusion of job stability.  Mexico is one of the few countries to still hold onto the principle of job stability, in that workers keep a particular position for an indeterminate amount of time.  The current draft proposals for labor reform, regarding the employment of individuals, lean towards the creation of provisional contracts while workers demonstrate that they are qualified, and/or seasonal or limited time contracts.  However these would create job insecurity among workers.  On this matter, the central idea of stability must be tied to the sources of employment.


2.      Salaries, which should be in the proposals, are not.  There are limited references to Mexico’s minimum salary, whereas a recuperation of salaries based on economic principles that truly benefit workers, and contribute to the macroeconomic equilibrium, must be included.


3.      Workers need genuine legal equality.  There are far too many detached exceptions in the Mexican Constitution and its secondary laws.  Groupings of bureaucrats; public agency workers at the federal, state and municipal levels; bank employees, especially in public sector banks; and university workers, largely academics.  And with these there are over 15 regulatory systems that cause overwhelming confusion, cumbersome to the degree they hinder many rights.  Furthermore, there are federal, national, local and business unions, all divided in terms of legal competency so that they inhibit the possibility of union organizations doing what should be their basic calling: coordination and harmonization with principals, employers or business owners.  Thus an endorsement is needed that is regulatory in nature, and that keeps the basic rights of all workers intact.


4.      Transparency and the rendering of union accounts.  Unions must be subject to, and made to comply with, the Federal Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information Law.  Through the application of this code the opacity and corruption that currently exists in unions should be able to be broken.


5.      Impartial labor justice must be guaranteed.  Mexico’s Arbitration and Conciliation Juntas should be replaced by tribunals that come under the authority of the judicial branch of government.  This insofar as the Juntas have not been tripartite, as they are clearly the judge and more in collective processes.  As well, the judges must be more professional and hand down decisions based on the law, plus they need to be agile and take into consideration the time factor when it comes to labor procedures and needs.



José Enrique Vallarta Rodríguez, a MexiData.info guest columnist, received his doctorate in Mexican Electoral Law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  Mexico City-based, he has worked for the Federal Electoral Institute.  He can be reached via e-mail at vej_2006@yahoo.com.mx.


Translation MexiData.info