Protecting the rights of migrant workers must be an essential component of the United Nations Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, according to union leaders who met recently in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to craft a worker rights agenda for inclusion in the global compact, the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement to comprehensively cover all dimensions of international migration.
The December 1–2 meeting preceded a UN gathering to assess recommendations and discuss implementation of the global compact on migration. The 17 union leaders from across the Americas crafted a shared policy agenda and outlined plans to advocate within national and regional government bodies.
“It cannot be overstated how important the content of the compact will be in terms of creating policies that will affect economic inclusion,” says Neha Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist for migration and trafficking. “This work will set the agenda for global action on migration and the role of displaced workers for at least the next decade. It is crucial that migrant workers, and the unions and worker centers that represent them, have a voice in the global compact negotiations process.”
Elena Villafuerte, PRODESC; Neha Misra, Solidarity Center; and María Carmen Molina from CSTS in Mexico were among panelists presenting labor’s joint position on labor migration.
In a panel presentation sharing labor’s joint position with UN participants, María del Carmen Molina, general secretary of the Confederation of Salvadoran Workers (CSTS), stressed the importance of protecting all workers’ rights, regardless of immigration status, and the responsibility of governments to ensure conditions so migration is by choice, not compulsion.
Misra and Solidarity Center partners from the Central American Regional Union Committee on Migration (Comité Inter-Sindical), ProDESC and Centro de Derechos del Migrante in Mexico took part in the civil society meetings prior to the UN’s formal session, and presented their recommendations to the full UN meeting December 4–6.
Union leaders also emphasized the need to ensure accessible pathways to regularization to ensure full rights for the world’s 150 million are migrant workers, and end the global expansion of abusive and exploitative labor migration programs. They agreed to take the issue of migrant worker rights back to their respective labor bodies to continue to educate and advocate on the issue.
The UN process to develop the global compact for migration began in April 2017. The UN General Assembly will hold an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018 with a view to adopting the global compact. Following the UN meeting, participants issued a joint statement summarizing their suggestions for implementing the global compact.
A group of armed civilians calling themselves the “Tonalapa Community Police,” attacked striking workers at the Media Luna gold mine in Mexico on November 18, killing two workers. The two men killed were brothers, Víctor and Marcelino Sahuanitla Peña.
Workers at the Cocula, Guerrero, gold mine went on strike earlier this month after their employer recognized the Confederation of Workers of Mexico (CTM) union, a labor organization with a history of acting as “protection union” by assisting employers in blocking independent unionization efforts. The independent mineworkers’ union, SNTMMSSRM (Los Mineros), had filed for a union election on October 13.
On November 16 and 17, union leaders and the employer negotiated a peaceful resolution which called for the withdrawal of armed security forces and an expedited union representation election. The talks came after scores of armed police forces arrived at the mine, taking over the site on November 13.
“This is an outrageous and unacceptable attack on freedom of association and fundamental human rights,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “The perpetrators must be found and held accountable.
“We stand with Los Mineros and workers everywhere who seek to peacefully form unions of their choosing,” she says.
Workers say an army squadron detained the attackers, some of whom they identified as CTM leaders, but immediately released them. The government has now sent in armed security forces.
In a statement, the United Steelworkers in Canada urged the Canadian government to “intervene with Mexican authorities and the company to recognize the basic rights of Mexican workers and prevent further violence.”
Canada-based Torex Gold Resources owns the Media Luna mine.
The Mexican domestic workers union, SINACTRAHO, last week launched a far-reaching campaign to ensure domestic workers across Mexico are covered by employment contracts.
“Our goal is to have 10,000 workers sign a formal contract with their employers, in time for December holidays,” says Marcelina Bautista, SINACTRAHO co-president.
“Trabajo Digno por Ti, por Mi y todas Mis Compañeras” (“Decent Work for You, for Me, and all My Sisters”) also is gaining unlikely support—from employers.
“This is not an act of kindess, this is an action of responsibility,” says Maite Azuela, speaking on behalf of “Hogar Justo Hogar” (Home, Just Home), a group of employers that aims to work jointly with workers to improve rights and labor conditions.
“The unjust conditions that exist in our country and in our workplaces, we as employers too often replicate at home,” she says. “Building the country that we truly want is work that begins at home.”
During the campaign launch June 23, which coincided with Mexico’s annual day to celebrate domestic work, the union presented two model contracts, one for domestic workers who labor full time for an employer, and another for part-time workers. The contracts include a calculation sheet to determine proper accrual and payment of benefits afforded to workers under law.
“I appreciate Marcelina´s work and support, and all the people here, because I am beginning to understand that there are people who support us,” says SINACTRAHO member Yazmin Méndez.
“I know that we can change the situation that we as workers live. Our work is the same as another job, we have rights and resposibilities.”
SINACTRAHO was founded two years ago and has since grown to some 900 members nationwide. The struggle by Mexico’s domestic workers for rights on the job is documented in the film, “Day Off” (Día de Descanso), in which SINACTRAHO executive board members take part.
Dozens of day-labor farm workers (jornaleros) demanded improved wages, democratic representation, an end to sexual harassment and access to clean water as they marched across Mexico in a national caravan, “Fair Wages and Dignified Life.”
A proposed new law would make it much harder for farm workers to get compensation for job injuries. Credit: Solidarity Center/Gladys Cisneros
The workers, who left Baja California March 4 and arrived in Mexico City on March 17, sought to raise renewed awareness of their struggle for decent working conditions in the San Quintin Valley and hold employers accountable for their failure to uphold agreements reached in 2015. Although the settlement negotiated in 2015 included raising day wages to between 150 and 180 pesos (approximately $7 to $9), these wage levels have been unevenly applied.
“We are here to demand the same things we have been asking for, for two years,” says Lorenzo Rodriguez, general secretary of the SINDJA union.
Following the 2015 jornaleros strike, workers formed a national independent union that has grown to include farm workers from four Mexican states. Registering their independent union, SINDJA, is the only demand that has been met so far, say union leaders. Workers negotiated the agreement with the government, but the agribusiness owners and growers must comply.
“We don’t even have the right to live,” says farm worker leader Bonifacio Martinez. “And with proposed new government reforms, we are forbidden to get sick at work,” he adds, referring to proposed legislation that would place government and employers, not medical professionals, in charge of determining whether an injury is work-related.
A 2015 Los Angeles Times series found many workers on export-oriented farms “essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.”
The national caravan included families of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa, who continue to seek answers and justice. The march coincided with the two-year anniversary of a historic 12-week strike and popular mobilization in the San Quintin Valley.