Canada to pursue labour complaint with Mexico under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation

    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

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