Companies that lay off staff during the month-long coronavirus health emergency or don’t pay them their full salary could be named and shamed by the federal government, President López Obrador said on Wednesday.
“We’re obliged to defend the workers and enforce the law; we would also make public … those who are capable of turning their backs … on those who suffer, on those who are needy,” López Obrador told reporters at his regular news conference.
His threat came two days after Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that businesses that don’t comply with the directive not to dismiss and to keep paying their employees even if they been ordered to close will face administrative sanctions such as fines or even criminal penalties in “extreme” cases.
López Obrador said that some company owners have already made a commitment not to lay off workers or cut their salaries but others “are not behaving well.”
However, he added that there is still time for them to change their minds and do the right thing.
“What good is an advertising campaign that costs hundreds of billions of pesos if they [the company owners] act in a selfish way in an emergency?” the president asked.
López Obrador said that it will be the responsibility of the Labor Ministry to intervene in cases in which employers don’t follow the government’s order to maintain their workforce and continue to pay them during the health emergency period that is currently scheduled to run through April 30.
While some lawyers questioned the motives of the government’s directive to companies to keep paying their employees in full even if they are not working, business groups called for tax payments to be deferred and a stimulus package for businesses.
The Mexican Employers Federation said that its members will make their best efforts to pay their workers in full but called on the government to change the classification of the health emergency in order to reduce employers’ wage obligations.
The government on Monday declared a health emergency due to “force majeure,” or unforeseeable circumstances, in lieu of declaring a regular “health contingency.”
Had it declared the latter rather than the former, employers would only be required to pay their workers the minimum wage (just over 120 pesos, or US $5, per day) over the next month, according to the Federal Labor Law.
Coparmex said that if a regular health contingency was declared, “each company, according to its financial means” could negotiate salaries higher than the minimum with their employees.
“We urge the federal government to go ahead with the official health contingency declaration to provide certainty to millions of owners of micro, small and medium-sized businesses and their workers,” the group said in a statement.
The law firm De la Vega & Martínez Rojas said that the government’s “force majeure” declaration was a deliberate ploy that made a mockery of the Federal Labor Law.
Raúl Maillard, president of the Labor Commission of the National Chamber for Industrial Transformation, agreed that the government deliberately chose not to declare a regular health contingency to avoid activating the minimum salary clause in the law.
Luis Monsalvo Álvarez, a lawyer and academic at Ibero University, likened the government’s actions to a “play on words” and said that its aim is to avoid being blamed for any negative impact on workers’ hip pockets.
“The federal government doesn’t want to assume [responsibility] for … the economic impact [on workers]. … It doesn’t want the private sector to say: ‘as the government said that it’s a health contingency, you, worker, can go now with your minimum wage,” he said.
“Then the culprit [would be] the government.”