Conflict & Justice

Mexico passes controversial labor reform bill


Women shout slogans during a protest against the labor reform bill in Mexico City on October 23, 2012. The bill passed the Congress this week and has been sent to President Calderon for his signature.



Mexico passed legislation Tuesday overhauling the country's 40-year-old labor laws in a bipartisan effort that many say isn't strong enough. The far left claims the new laws favor big business over workers and that true reform has yet to come.

President Felipe Calderon, who steps down from the presidency Dec. 1 and originally proposed the legislation, has said the new law would add hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and will allow women and young people to more easily access employment while boosting productivity.

However, the left is concerned about the ease with which employers can now hire and fire at will, outsource jobs, sidestep giving workers health benefits and hire part-time workers for a fraction of the pay they'd otherwise receive. The new law also does nothing to democratize the unions, which are ancient, corrupt and often led by bosses who are more closely tied to the employers than the workers are.  

"It's the worst of both worlds," says Cristina Auerbach, a labor lawyer working with coal miners in the northern state of Coahuila, of the recent reforms. "It strips away rights from workers and leaves union leaders untouched."

USA Today reports that outside audits of union financial records is still prohibited and union members still cannot view the union contracts they're party to.

More from GlobalPost: Protests erupt in Mexico as Senate mulls labor reform bill

The bill was supported by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which will return office next month after a 12-year hiatus. President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto worked with Calderon and Congress on the reform, insisting his party has modernized.

Labor reform was part of Pena Nieto's campaign platform, and with this bipartisan effort fast-tracked to pass before the shift in power, the incoming leader looks poised to have the support of the legislature and the powerful unions. 

Despite the consternation from progressives, the new law does bring Mexico's labor policies into the 21st century, with provisions to outlaw gender-based discrimination, and by lifting the ban on part-time employment, it will be easier for mothers and students to find work. 

"Many young people and women cannot find work [now] because of a ban on part-time employment," said Caesar Velazquez Guadarrama, professor of public policy at the Iberoamerican University, to USA Today. 

The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) doesn't see it that way, saying that regardless of small steps forward, the rights granted by the new law pale in comparison to what should have been or what could be. 

More from GlobalPost: Labor reforms could impact Mexican unions, companies

"What we're doing here is annulling workers' rights," said Alejandra Barrales, a senator from the PRD said to Reuters. 

While writing the bill, some legislators proposed requiring the so-called "ghost unions" to allow their members to approve contracts and democratically elect union leaders by secret ballot. According to the Associated Press, both of these democratizing clauses were removed before being sent to Calderon for his signature.

"There is a possibility that more people will be hired, but not under the right labor conditions," said Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico's UNAM university, to Reuters. "It should have been stronger. In Mexico we're prone to making half-hearted decisions."

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of labor laws around the world, check out our Special Report "Worked Over: The Global Decline in Labor Rights."