A new Labor Center in Mexico will advise workers about their rights and how to mobilize and organize unions and collectively bargain. The Labor Center, at the Autonomous University of Querétaro in central Mexico, is supported by the Solidarity Center and the Labor Center of the University of California.
“The aim is to strengthen and promote the full recognition of labor rights, freedom of association and organization, and the democratic participation of workers through research, linkage and accompaniment,” said Labor Center Director Dr. Javier Salinas García. Salinas spoke at a recent Solidarity Center event in Mexico to announce the opening.
The Labor Center comes three years after Mexico’s government announced a series of comprehensive labor reforms to establish a democratic unionization process, address corruption in the labor adjudication system and eradicate employer protection (“charro”) unions prevalent in the country.
The Labor Center is “a way to respond to the needs of the situation,” said Beatriz García, Solidarity Center Mexico deputy program director.
“I think we all agree that Mexico is going through a historic moment. The labor reform responds to the demands that have been the objectives of the struggle of many workers for years, for decades, and reflects some positive practices of the independent unions,” she said.
The event featured a panel of independent union members and leaders who discussed the future of the labor movement in Mexico in the wake of historic labor law reforms.
Panelists explored the role that democratic and independent trade unions in promoting labor reform implementation in Mexico three years after the 2019 Labor Reform and negotiations of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (UMSCA/T-MEC).
Speakers shared how they are using the tools of labor reform to organize on their worksites.
“We are the delegates, and we call our colleagues to share information about the Union League,” said Sonia Cristina García Bernal. “We have helped colleagues who were told they were going to be fired without severance pay. We have been able to get them severance pay. We have been able to get them rehired.”
“After these three years, the tool that we use the most is fast response mechanisms,” said Imelda Guadalupe Jiménez Méndez. “This has been a very important tool.”
In addition to Beatriz García, speakers included: Imelda Guadalupe Jiménez Méndez, Secretary for Political Affairs, the Miners Union (Los Mineros); Julieta Mónica Morales, General Secretary, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana); Rita Guadalupe Lozano Tristán, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana); Alejandra Morales, General Secretary, Independent Union of National Workers in the Automotive Industry; and Sonia Cristina García Bernal, Special Delegate, Mexican Workers’ Union League (Liga Obrera Mexicana).
Haitian garment workers scored a huge victory as a coalition of unions negotiated an agreement with the government to provide garment workers in Port-Au-Prince with transportation and food stipends.
“In our struggle for a better working environment and fair wages we have always emphasized that the government should provide social support to workers, especially those in the textile sector. And here it is for the first time that our demands have been heard, even if it is not yet in effect, but the government has planned to accompany the workers by offering them transportation and food costs for an amount of 135,000,000 gourdes ($1,116,595),” said Telemarque Pierre, coordinator of SOTA- Batay Ouvriye.
“From now on, we would like the government to take care to include these accompaniments in the annual budgets so that the workers can always benefit from these advantages.”
The government will distribute the funds via a mobile app. The stipend will cover the cost of travel to and from the factory, and include a lunch stipend. Inflation and gang violence have led to skyrocketing prices for food and fuel such that workers cannot afford travel to and from work or food at lunchtime.
The agreement underscores the importance and effectiveness of unions in improving the lives of workers.
“We can say now that every time there is a problem, the workers come to the union because they always find that the unions are a real help,” said Eliacin Wilner, GOSTTRA organizer.
Unions are working to ensure that workers are aware of the program and able to access their benefits.
The agreement is the result of minimum wage protests by garment workers in January 2022. Fueled by frustration over three years without a minimum wage increase and the rising cost of basic necessities and services, workers at the SONAPI industrial park in Port-Au-Prince held a spontaneous protest to call for a wage increase.
The protests led to negotiations between the government and a coalition of nine textile unions. The coalition’s advocacy resulted in an increase of the minimum wage from 500 gourdes ($4.82) per day to 685 gourdes ($5.85) per day.
Solidarity Center studies repeatedly have demonstrated the daily minimum wage is far less than the estimated cost of living in Haiti. Significant job losses due to supply chain disruptions have left most garment workers facing diminished working hours or layoffs, threatening their ability to provide for their families. These periods of income precarity are especially dire given that most low-wage garment workers lack savings.
The trafficking of agriculture workers, including children, is widespread globally, and “practices of exceptionalism” limit workers’ rights to freedom of association, organizing and collective bargaining, according to a new report on trafficking in persons in agriculture from United Nations Special Rapporteur Siobhán Mullally.
“Characterized by high levels of informality, lack of oversight and protection, trafficking in persons remains a serious concern within the agricultural sector, affecting both adults and children,” she writes.
The report notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic saw agricultural workers designated as “essential,” worker protections did not follow. Indeed, temporary, seasonal and migrant workers are provided limited legal coverage, and restrictive migration policies persist despite the demand for agricultural workers.
Discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, migration status, gender and disability creates conditions within which trafficking occurs with impunity.
Land inequality, particularly affecting women and girls, drives exploitation, including trafficking for forced labor.
The agriculture sector employs an estimated 28 percent of the total global labor force and an estimated 60 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Because it is characterized by high levels of informal and seasonal employment, the risks of exploitation are also high.
Discrimination based on migration status leaves workers vulnerable to trafficking.
Gender inequality in land ownership and tenure contributes to poverty, dependency and risks of violence, including trafficking of women and girls. Women are estimated to make up 20 percent of the world’s landholders but account for 43 percent of agricultural workers.
Indigenous women and girls may experience increased risks of trafficking due to the intersection of discrimination and violence, based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous origin and poverty.
People with disabilities may be particularly at risk of trafficking in agricultural work, where there is limited oversight and monitoring of worker rights.
Agriculture is the entry point for child labor, accounting for 76.6 percent in child laborers ages 5-11 and 75.8 percent in children ages 12-14. Children who travel with parents migrating for work often miss out on their education, as well.
The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that recruitment practices for the sector–particularly of seasonal, temporary and migrant workers–increase risks of trafficking for forced labor. Recruitment processes and substantial recruitment and other fees often lead to debt bondage.
Meanwhile, “intensive agriculture and agribusinesses contribute negatively to climate change, reflecting the wider nexus between trafficking in persons, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis,” she writes.
The protection of all workers and their families “is essential to prevent trafficking,” she says, urging governments to, among other urgent actions: “Strengthen the capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders to support agricultural workers, including through effective protection of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and to collective organizing and collective bargaining, without discrimination.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report was bolstered by a submission from the Solidarity Center related to the conditions for migrant workers in Jordan’s agriculture sector. The submission noted:
Migrant workers work very long hours in hazardous conditions that lack occupational, safety and health (OSH) standards, medical care and overtime compensation. Forced overtime is an indicator of forced labor under ILO standards. The agricultural sector in general is an informal economy sector, and the work is usually temporary or seasonal. Agricultural areas are isolated and far from service centers; therefore, agricultural workers who suffer from labor and human rights violations do not have access to justice. Forced labor and wage theft are common violations, although usually not reported because of limited access to justice, absence of labor inspection and fears of retaliation and other threats workers face, especially undocumented or irregular workers. Because these workers were not recognized as workers under Jordanian labor law until May 2021, they lacked access to labor courts and were forced to file complaints through civil courts, which do not exempt court fees, making this an inaccessible complaint process for agricultural workers.
The kafala system requires migrant workers to be fully reliant on their employers for legal status. In the case that an employer does not renew a work permit, the worker is punished with deportation and a ban from returning to Jordan for three years. Workers are often deported without receiving their owed wages and other compensation–a form of wage theft, which is also an ILO indicator of forced labor. In cases where agricultural workers leave a workplace to escape harassment, rights violations and forced labor without reporting such violations, they are subject to an overstay fine, which is 1.5 Jordanian dinars per day (approximately $2) and they are subject to detention and false or retaliatory theft accusations by their employers, essentially becoming undocumented workers. Migrant workers rarely if ever report violations, fearing employer harassment or retaliation. Undocumented workers are victims of exploitation by brokers and fixers who charge excessive fees for work permits. A Syrian woman worker said, “Syrian agricultural workers’ wages are the lowest not because they accept to work for low wages but because the shaweesh (the middleman) takes a percentage of their wages.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report cited these examples and supported the Solidarity Center’s conclusion in its submission: “Trade unions are important to combat forced labor and other forms of labor trafficking and exploitation, and to raise workers’ awareness about their rights and the available services and access to justice channels.
“The explicit exclusion of both migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector is a violation of these workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association under the Constitution of Jordan and international human and labor rights as enshrined in the ICCPR, ICESCR and ILO Conventions 87 and 98. The right to freedom of association is fundamental in a workers’ ability to advocate for her/his own rights, protect themselves from forced labor, and ensure protections from GBVH, and other occupational hazards.”
“Collective bargaining ultimately is about transforming lives,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, who moderated a panel discussion launching the report. “Not only do better wages and working conditions result from collective bargaining, but workers report dignity and respect on the job for the first time through collective bargaining and unions.”
Report author Mark Anner, director of Pennsylvania State University Center for Global Workers’ Rights, highlighted some key findings of the report. He said:
Workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 25.3 percent less likely to feel compelled to migrate than workers without a collective bargaining agreement.
Honduran garment workers with a collective bargaining agreement are 67 percent more likely to always have the choice to work overtime or not.
Workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement are 20.3 percent more likely to face verbal abuse.
Female workers without a collective bargaining agreement are 10.7 percent more likely to face sexual harassment on the job.
Workers with collective bargaining agreements earn 7 percent more than workers without collective bargaining agreements.
“Workers experience tangible and intangible benefits from having collective bargaining agreements,” Anner said. He quoted some workers as saying, “We are listened to now” and “Management shows us respect as workers.”
The report documents the expansion of collective bargaining agreements in the maquila sector, following a 2009 binding agreement between workers and a garment manufacturer. As of last year, 50,625 workers, mostly in the garment industry, were covered by 21 collective bargaining agreements in the Honduran export assembly sector.
Bader-Blau emphasized that the report shows the importance of worker-driven research, as suggested by the Solidary Center. “Unions lead and show outcomes to the rest of the world through the power of their own stories,” she said.
Union leaders like Eva Argueta, a leader in organizing tens of thousands of garment workers in Honduras, led the process of connecting with workers to help them share their work experiences.
Speaking on the panel, Argueta, representative for the General Workers Central (CGT, Honduras) and Maquila Organizing Project coordinator, described the process. “The person responding is much more likely to trust someone that they know who is doing the survey,” she said. “It can be a delicate thing because of the fear the boss might find out.”
Worker-leaders interviewed a total of 387 workers with and without collective bargaining agreements.
Other panelists included Joel López, general secretary of the Independent Federation of Workers of Honduras (FITH), Tara Mathur, field director for the Americas at the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and María Elena Sabillón, Solidarity Center senior coordinator in Honduras.
As Sabillón shared in her remarks, “Collective bargaining agreements allow for real progress in both labor and human rights. CBAs today go beyond economic clauses. Unions are winning clauses on gender equality, combating gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work and respecting the dignity of each person. These CBAs are validating a broader rights-based approach.”
Platform delivery workers in Ukraine, many of them displaced from their homes, are demanding decent wages as they continue to work in the midst of war.
On May 12, delivery drivers in Lviv went to Bolt Food’s headquarters to deliver their suggestions and seek an open dialogue with the company. Participants dressed to conceal their identities because they say the company has punished workers in the past with “robo-firings” and “robo-suspensions” by excluding them from the app.
Many of the delivery riders in Lviv have fled cities impacted by the war in Ukraine. In several cases, they are homeless or the only breadwinners left for their families.
In a video produced by Ukraine’s Labor Initiatives, workers describe their situations.
“I am from Mykolaiv,” says one worker. “Mom and Dad lost their jobs there. I don’t have a place to live here and I don’t even have enough money to eat. Bolt … said they would support favorable conditions. Both for themselves and for couriers. But they simply did not warn anyone, removed the minimum pay, lowered all the ratios.”
“How are the IDPs supposed to live,” he asks, “who have no housing, no work [and] don’t have anything to eat?”
Another worker describes the deterioration in pay. “They took away the minimum payment for delivery. And the ratios were reduced by almost half. Here a colleague has calculated that it, approximately, will give a reduction of wages by 52 percent.”
Workers said the company has failed to explain the reasons for the changes. Meanwhile, workers who rely on cars and motorcycles and have to keep their vehicles fueled in order to work face rising gas prices.
“Fuel is among my expenses,” said one worker. “Now I don’t know if I can even pay for it.”
The demands of these workers clearly show that platform-based companies abuse worker rights in extreme environments using the technology the companies have set up to maximize profits.
Delivery companies are “not regulated properly,” one delivery rider said. “Each service acts as they want. Some platforms employ people as ‘private entrepreneurs,’ some just saying ‘You are plugged into the platform” and you should be grateful for it. Because of that, many issues arise.
“And if after all this,” he continued, “some trade unions … will be formed, that will be great. People should have the instrument to solve the issues. Strange as it may sound, that may even be worth their lives.”
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