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How Paper ’Ghost’ Unions Exploit Workers in Mexico

John Holman - Al Jazeera
go to original
September 6, 2017

Update: Second Round of NAFTA Talks End Amid Resistance Over Mexico Wages (BC Local News)

US President Donald Trump is not known to be a defender of the underpaid, under-protected Mexican labor force, but his administration is making noises about the low salaries and lax regulations that workers in Mexico have to put up with.

There is a reason for that. The Trump administration believes low Mexican wages make for unfair competition for their own workforce and lure in companies that instead might have set up in the United States. With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the negotiating table again after 23 years, the Trump administration, when they are not threatening to pull out of the trade deal, is looking to even up the playing field.

But while the US administration's concerns over Mexican workers' rights might not be altruistic, they do contain a basic truth. Mexican workers are, on average, the worst paid of the 35 countries in the OECD. Wages have stagnated. According to Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM), the real value of the country's minimum salary has dropped 60 percent in the past 30 years.

The reasons for that are complex, but labor expert Maria Xelhuantzi Lopez of UNAM says one issue lies at the centre of it all.

"The cause of the low salaries in Mexico is that there aren't any unions that are regulating the working conditions or the salaries," she says.

Since the 1980s, a phenomenon has exploded in Mexico - "protectionist" trade unions.

The unions work like this: a national or international company sets up in Mexico, and nine times out of 10, according to Lopez, rather than allowing the workers to actually form their own union, the company hires lawyers to produce a protectionist union.

These unions - which exist only on paper - sign a "collective" contract with the company and becomes the legal representative of the workers.

"They are paper unions - ghosts - because legally they exist, they cover all the legal requisites, but the workers aren't included in the process," Lopez says.

... International companies coming to Mexico have also learned that setting up a protectionist union is an easy way to guarantee cheap labor, according to labor expert Graciela Bensusan of UNAM university.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera

Related: Mexico’s Low Wages Make North American Auto Industries Great (PanAm Post)

Related: NAFTA: Early Sticking Points Encountered on Numerous Issues (The Canadian Press)

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