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MEX | May 19, 2022

Union activity is brewing in Mexico

/ Our Today

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Some labour leaders are viewing the situation as a ticking time bomb

Raul Maillard, president of the Labor Commission at Canacintra.

Durrant Pate/Contributor

Mexico is witnessing a surge in union activity, but there are concerns that the situation is shaping up to be a ticking time bomb.

This surge in union activity is being influenced by the new labour reforms taking place in Mexico and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which kicked workers’ rights in Mexico into a new gear. The treaty compelled the Mexican government to overhaul its federal labour law and opened a new channel for workers who want to denounce a trampling of their labour rights.

USMCA gave independent unions a shot at representation after decades of domination by “official unions” accused of maintaining protection contracts that screw over employees.

The reform mandates all collective contracts in the country be legitimised by May 1, 2023.

However, estimates from the Mexican government show that less than one per cent of all contracts had been voted on by early May of 2022. When time runs out, contracts that are not legitimised will be suspended, opening the door for any group, who seeks to claim representation.

Possible confrontations on the horizon

While this is great news for workers, it is likely to bring about confrontations within the work place, particularly for corporations that are unaware of the new regime.

Raul Maillard, president of the Labor Commission at Canacintra, one of Mexico’s biggest industry groups, expects an “explosion” that threatens companies with poorly prepared legal teams.

“Companies need to be much more intelligent with their offers at the bargaining table. And even more so now that there’s a real danger of workers going on strike.”

David Puente, labour attorney at Basham, Ringe & Correa

For his part, David Puente, labour attorney at Basham, Ringe & Correa told Nearshore Americas, “there’ll be a sort of union fever because of how protection contracts were maintained for so long. Now people will truly begin pushing for a more level field in their employment”.

He added: “What changes is the dynamic. Companies need to be much more intelligent with their offers at the bargaining table. And even more so now that there’s a real danger of workers going on strike.”

These new labour dynamics might extend beyond Mexico, catching up with other US trade partners. In a document published by the Brookings Institution, Ambassador Katherine Tai -who leads the USTR- stated that “the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to using the USMCA as a model for how trade agreements can put workers and their interests first”.

Union fever reaching Mexico’s call centres

Though not as present as in the manufacturing sector, union activity in Mexico’s call centres might start to heat up.

Alejandro Martínez, a union leader affiliated with the Mexican Workers Confederation, one of the country’s biggest union federations, has commented on the rising interest for unionisation among contact centre workers.

This is surprising, considering that young white-collar workers in Mexico have historically shown little interest for unions or outright disapproved of them.

“We visited a call centre company some weeks ago. Out of almost 2,000 workers there, only 30 were not interested in unionising,” Martinez told Mexican daily El Economista, noting that about 85 per cent of them were centennials.

Though far from the monster numbers boasted by other sectors in the Mexican economy, the contact centre industry has grown big enough to attract the attention of local and foreign investors. Call centres employ around 700,000 people in Mexico, most of them students or young professionals.

About 3,500 unionised employees of a Grupo Carso call centre in the state of Tlaxcala went on strike last year, successfully bargaining for a more substantial wage raise and heftier benefits to be incorporated into their collective agreement.

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