Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Mexico: USMCA not applicable in Grupo México mine labor dispute

The Mexican government said Tuesday that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) isn’t applicable to a labor dispute at a Grupo México mine in Zacatecas that has lasted 16 years.

On June 16, the U.S. filed on behalf of the union at the San Martín mine in Sombrerete under the USMCA rapid response labor mechanism, alleging that Grupo México violated workers’ rights. The filing following a decision by the Mexican government’s labor board on June 14. 

Map showing town of Sombrerete, Zacatecas
The mine, located in the western Zacatecas municipality of Sombrerete, has been under strike since 2007, although the mine reopened in 2019 after a vote by workers that the union said weren’t members.

Under the USMCA mechanism, the U.S. can request a member country to review a foreign company that exports to the U.S.   

Mexico responded in a press release Tuesday that the conflict is outside the USMCA’s scope and that it would be resolved in domestic courts. Mexican officials claimed that because the events took place before the USMCA entered into force in 2020, and aren’t eligible for review under the rapid response mechanism.

They also claimed there’s no evidence the mine exports to the U.S. 

The U.S. filed the request on behalf of the Mexican union Los Mineros and the U.S. labor organizations the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers. The unions allege that Grupo México resumed operations in 2019 at the zinc, lead, copper and silver mine despite an ongoing strike over safety conditions.

Mexican senator Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, center
Los Mineros is headed by Senator Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, center, seen here at the signing of a mining reform law passed in April. (Napoleón Gómez Urrutia/Twitter)

Grupo México countered that the mine reopened after an agreement with workers. The union says those workers didn’t have the right to bargain with the company.

Mexico’s federal labor board ruled in favor of the striking workers on June 14, ordering Grupo México to pay back wages and benefits and ending the strike. 

“[The case] will be resolved in the Mexican judicial system,” Mexico’s ministries of labor and economy said in the statement, which emphasized Mexico’s commitment to protecting workers’ rights under domestic law. 

While the ruling appears favorable for workers, Los Mineros says it’s not acceptable because the back wages and benefits will be calculated at the rate workers had when the strike began in 2007 and doesn’t figure in minimum-wage increases. They also disagree with the order to return to work, saying it denies workers their right to collective bargaining.

The unions also called into question the ministries’ argument that the mine doesn’t export goods to the United States.

“It is impossible to say that this company doesn’t export … to the U.S., when its own financial reports show the opposite,” Los Mineros said in a statement.

Grupo México violates workers’ rights “moment by moment,” and the company has continued to negotiate with unauthorized workers, it said.

The U.S. can contest Mexico’s decision until Aug. 13 by requesting a USMCA dispute panel. Labor matters under the relatively new rapid response mechanism have never yet escalated to this stage.

This is the 11th time the U.S. has invoked the mechanism, and the sixth time this year. 

With reports from Reuters, La Jornada and El Economista

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