OTTAWA, ON, May 11 /PRNewswire/ - The Honourable Joe Fontana, Minister of Labour and Housing, announced today that he has accepted the recommendation contained in the review report of Public Communication CAN 2003-1 submitted by the Canadian National Administrative Office (NAO) under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC). "I am pleased to announce that the Canadian National Administrative Office has concluded its review of Public Communication CAN 2003-1 and that its report has been made available to the public," said Minister Fontana. "I take the issues raised in this communication very seriously and I have accepted the report's recommendation to seek ministerial consultations with the Mexican Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare on the freedom of association issues raised in the communication." CAN 2003-1 is the fourth public communication under the NAALC that has been submitted to Canada for its consideration. It was submitted to the Canadian NAO by the Maquila Solidarity Network, a Canadian organization that works on labour issues in maquiladora factories and export processing zones; the United Students Against Sweatshops, a non-governmental organization in the U.S.; and the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, a labour rights advocacy group in Mexico. This public communication raises issues concerning the enforcement of labour laws on freedom of association, occupational health and safety, and minimum employment standards in relation to activities that occurred at Matamoros Garment and at Tarrant Mexico, two apparel factories in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The submitters also allege that similar events took place at another factory, Kukdong International Mexico in Atlixco, also in the state of Puebla. To ensure an accessible, open and transparent examination of the issues, the Canadian NAO consulted with as many parties as possible, including the Mexican NAO, the submitters, Mexican workers, management and unions, client companies of these factories and Mexican lawyers. In addition, the Canadian NAO held a public meeting in Toronto on May 28, 2004, to allow the submitters, members of the public and non-governmental organizations to present additional information relevant to the review. The Canadian NAO found that the events that occurred at the two garment factories raise concerns about the union registration process, the impartiality and independence of labour boards, workers' access to information about their collective agreements, and the protection of workers from dismissal for organizing a union. The NAO concluded that a more positive approach on the part of the labour authorities and better information to the workers would likely have made an important contribution to protecting workers against anti-union activities such as intimidation, coercion and unjust dismissals. The NAO also recognized that some of the issues have been raised in previous public communications and seem to continue to be unresolved. With respect to occupational safety and health and minimum employment standards, the NAO notes that it has not received all the information necessary to draw conclusions on whether the Mexican government failed to meet its obligations under the NAALC. Upon receipt of additional information, the NAO may provide the Minister with further recommendations. The Minister will write to the Mexican Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare to seek ministerial consultations to better understand and resolve the issues raised in the public communication. The Minister is committed to carrying out these consultations in a timely and efficient manner. BACKGROUNDER The North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) was signed by Canada, the United States and Mexico at the same time as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and came into force on January 1, 1994. The NAALC protects the rights and seeks to improve working conditions and living standards for workers in these three countries. Each of the countries has established its own National Administrative Office (NAO) in conformance with the NAALC. Under Article 16(3) of the NAALC, the NAO of each party is to provide for the submission and receipt of public communications (complaints) on labour law matters arising in the territory of another NAALC country, and is to review such matters in accordance with domestic procedures. The matters complained of must constitute a failure of the other party to comply with its obligations under the NAALC - namely, to enforce its domestic labour law. The Canadian Guidelines for Filing Public Communications enables any person or organization to file such public communications with the Canadian NAO. Public Communication CAN 2003-1 was submitted to the Canadian NAO by three organizations: the Maquila Solidarity Network, a Canadian organization that works on labour issues in maquiladora factories and export processing zones; the United Students Against Sweatshops, an American non governmental organization; and the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, a labour rights advocacy group in Mexico. The Communication was accepted for review on March 12, 2004. CAN 2003-1 raises issues related to unionization efforts at Tarrant Mexico and Matamoros Garment factories, both in the state of Puebla, and the subsequent actions of government agencies. More specifically, the submitters claim that the Puebla Conciliation and Arbitration Board failed to provide a fair process for the registration of Matamoros (SITEMAG) and Tarrant (SUITTAR) independent unions, and to protect their committee members from intimidation and discrimination. Furthermore, the submission claims that the Mexican government failed to meet its obligations to protect workers at the Matamoros factory against minimum employment standards and occupational health and safety violations. The submitters also point to past alleged labour infractions at a third Puebla factory, Kukdong International Mexico (2000-2001), and to previous American and Canadian public communications against Mexico, to demonstrate a "persistent pattern of non-enforcement" on the part of the Mexican government. They allege that the violations presented in this public communication are symptoms of a "systemic problem in the enforcement of labor law in Mexico." As part of its review process, Canada consulted with the Mexican NAO, the submitters, representatives from Matamoros Garment and Tarrant Mexico, the incumbent unions at these two factories, the companies mentioned in the submission, and Mexican lawyers. In addition, the Canadian NAO held a public meeting in Toronto on May 28, 2004, to allow the submitters, non-governmental organizations and members of the public to present additional information relevant to the review of CAN 2003-1. Provinces and territories were invited to the public meeting and have been kept informed of the progress of the review. The Canadian NAO has now concluded its review and has submitted its report to the Minister. The NAO found that the events surrounding the two petitions for registration raise concerns about whether the Government of Mexico is conforming with its obligation to ensure that administrative procedures to enforce labour laws are not unnecessarily complicated and do not entail unwarranted delays. It also has concerns about the impartiality and independence of the Labour Board (CAB) of Puebla and raised questions related to Mexico's obligation to ensure that its labour boards do not have any substantial interest in the outcome of union registration procedures. Finally, the NAO concluded that a more positive approach on the part of the labour authorities and better information to the workers would likely have made an important contribution to effectively enforcing protections that are key to countering anti-union activities such as intimidation, coercion and unjust dismissals. With respect to the problems faced by independent unions in Mexico when trying to register and obtain legal rights to negotiate and hold title to collective agreements, the NAO recognized that this issue had been raised in previous public communications and seems to continue to be unresolved. With respect to occupational safety and health and minimum employment standards, the NAO will request additional information from its Mexican counterpart and may provide the Minister with further recommendations after reviewing this information. The same public communication was submitted to the American NAO and accepted for review. The US report was released on September 22, 2004. The American report draws conclusions very similar to the Canadian ones and also recommends ministerial consultations. Therefore, in the spirit of cooperation between the three partner countries, Canada and the U.S. are examining the possibility of working jointly in holding their consultations with the Mexican government.
SOURCE Government of Canada