Proposed Mexican Labor Law Would Drive Low Wages Lower
October 1, 2012 7:16 am
A new labor law was passed by the lower house in Mexico on Saturday, and union members and workers are worried that the legislation will take power away from workers there and drive wages down. The law would permit employers to hire workers for a trial period, pay an hourly wage (as opposed to the current minimum day wage), tie promotions to productivity and ease hiring and firing regulations. The law originally contained language forcing increased transparency on unions, but revisions earlier this week struck that language out of the bill.
Mexico’s current minimum daily wage is 62.33 pesos — or just under five US dollars a day. Workers are concerned that the new law gives employers carte blanche to reduce pay rates even further by hiring workers part-time at an hourly rate of about 60 cents US. Antonieta Torres, a Government Office Assistant, stood with other unionized workers at a large protest outside the lower house Saturday. The Los Angeles Times reported on her remarks to those gathered to protest the bill, which is being pitched as an effort to create jobs:
“It’s possible that there could be more jobs, but at miserable wages, with exploitation of workers…It would hurt all of us… They pay us so low, and they would pay us even lower by the hour.”
The bill was introduced by lame duck President Felipe Calderon, who received assistance on it from President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. It is being framed as an effort to increase the competitiveness of Mexico’s economy and the ability of young people, women and returning migrant workers to find employment. The leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) has led protests against the bill — citing drug violence, not wage provisions, as hostile to outside investment.
PRD national leader Jesus Zambrano spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek:
“Yes, we need a reform that allows labor productivity to increase, but not at the cost of workers’ rights.”
The vote was passed by a vote of 346 to 60 around 4am Saturday after a disorderly and spirited debate. Leftist representatives occupied the podium, forcing the bill’s supporters to lead the session from the spectator’s gallery, while PRD and union supporters rallied outside the lower house. Some of the country’s largest unions — such as the national teachers’ union — are in support of the bill and in close cahoots with incoming President Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The major unions are widely regarded to be corrupt, and their influence over PRI led party lawmakers to strike language that indicated funds could be frozen if unions refused information on the whereabouts of dues.
Regardless of the differing priorities of unions, the law, which now passes to the Senate, could have Mexican employment imitating the precarious model of the US — with the added hardship of dramatically lower wages.
Jamie Moreno, a high school secretary and member of the National University Workers Union, spoke about why he is against the bill at a protest last week. From Bloomberg:
[If passed the law] would result in a “total transformation of labor relations,” with temp labor agencies contracting workers for a few months, without the health, pension and housing benefits most workers currently get.”
Image from here