Mexico: The Labor Challenges

Arturro Alcalde Justiniani, La Jornada, July 7th 2018

The new composition of the Congress of the Union creates and  opportunity to have better laws in all areas and issues of the pending agenda. One of them, which is fundamental for the country, is the labor reform.

Recall that in February 2017 a profound constitutional reform was carried out in this area. Considering its explanatory statement, it was considered the most important in the last 100 years, because it implies a radical change in the justice system.

For example, it requires the abolition of the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, assigning their functions to the federal and local judicial powers; creates new institutions to promote conciliation; establishes a set of democratic rules is established, especially aimed at rescuing collective bargaining from the current practices of simulation and corruption to turn it into a space for social and productive agreement, as in the most developed countries of the world. The authentic representation of the workers in these processes will be able to overcome the current policy of wage containment and this would generate a very positive effect in the change of economic model that the population demands.

In order to comply with the constitutional mandate and achieve a successful labor reform, two conditions must be met: first, to achieve legislative agreement on changes in the labor procedure and the role of new judges, creating rules that can be met promptly in both individual and collective cases for the benefit and legal certainty of employers and workers; second,  to efect an adequate transition from the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards to the new labor courts. Little has been said about this transition, but it has great practical and budgetary importance. The starting point is to recognize that this labor reform is a fundamental line of social policy that the new government must promote.

According to the constitutional reform, the implementing laws should have been passed within one year. It was also mandated that the cases, files and documents (about about 1 million nationwide) be transferred to the new labor courts. None of this has been done within the prescribed period.

This transition has faced the fact that the judicial powers lack the conditions to receive so many cases and, on the other hand, within the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards themselves a dangerous process has been generated that prevents overcoming this long-standing problem, which governments have seized on to reverse course and even go so far as to block the implementation  of  the reforms.

Entering into the details of the transition, one encounters a set of difficulties that must be overcome. With regard to the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board, the outlook is frankly bleak, a product partly of the budgetary neglect which increased in the last three governments. The policies of the governments and their finance ministries have focused on reducing jobs and practically stifling the delivery of labor justice. These restrictions increase bottlenecks to increase extend the time required to conclude cases.  The piles of files grow day by day, the procedures routinely last up to five years, with another five years to give legal effect to the decision, not counting the time to execute the judgement.

For 17 years, a criminal freeze has been maintained by the fiscal authorities. In some Boards  30,000 cases are assigned to a single actuary who earns around 8 thousand pesos per month. We are speaking of a key official in the procedure, who has been deprived of the basic support to carry out his or her work. The government’s abandonment of the labor tribunals is part of a policy of segregation, as opposed to the priority given to other branches of law.

This precarious situation is not limited to the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board:  the difficulties are aggravated by the policy of the public employment entities, among them, the Mexican Institute of Social Security, which generates most of the cases and hinders their resolution. In social security cases, which reach a quarter of a million, there is also a great lentitude, which causes incalculable damage to the beneficiaries and the labor authority itself. In the bureaucratic environment there is the same policy of closing one’s eyes to reality and letting the damage accumulate – suffice to say that some districts of  Mexico City have labor debts in the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Tribunal greater than their entire annual budget. And meanwhile, back wages accumulate and justice does not arrive.

Beyond the mandatory legal reforms, it is urgent that we turn our eyes to the drama that labor justice is experiencing in our country today.

Thanks to Ben Davis of the Unirted Steelworkers.

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