The 17 municipalities of the Gulf coast state of Tabasco owe a combined amount of almost 1.5 billion pesos (US $80.5 million) to former municipal workers who won unfair dismissal claims.
But faced with the inability to cover the large payouts, the municipal governments are currently disputing 153 of the claims in state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, following a ruling by the state’s Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in November that they must compensate the ex-employees.
The problem stems from a widespread practice where new municipal governments dismiss employees of the previous administration.
If the municipal governments cannot comply with current or forthcoming court orders, they run the risk of having their mayors and entire city councils dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Last month, Mexico’s highest court set a precedent by dismissing the mayor of Paraíso, Tabasco, and all but two municipal councilors for failing to comply with a court order to pay 95 million pesos to 23 former workers who were found to have been unfairly dismissed.
Despite the possibility that other councils could face the same fate, the state government led by Arturo Núñez Jiménez has warned that there will be no bailout package for the state’s municipalities.
Interior Secretary Gustavo Rosario Torres stressed that while the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) governor supports the municipal governments, there are no resources available to help them financially.
The municipalities facing the biggest payouts are Paraíso, which owes just over 559 million pesos, followed by Jalpa de Méndez, which has a debt of almost 167 million pesos, and Nacajuca, which must pay 154.7 million.
In the case of the former, the state Congress ordered the replacement councilors to take control of the municipality’s affairs but last Thursday only two of the substitutes showed up to be sworn in.
If the other new councilors don’t arrive at the Paraíso municipal headquarters today to assume their responsibilities, they will be stripped of their positions and a citizens’ municipal council will take over their role.