Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
Labor was a major topic of concern all through the many years of the USMCA negotiations, being a major reason for the agreement’s multiple revisions. This is for good reason.
Free trade agreements (FTAs) have always been a source of contention for political parties and non-partisan labor advocates alike. In the U.S., labor advocates express particular concern with FTAs involving developing countries, claiming that the low wages and labor standards of such nations may create a power imbalance between workers and global corporations. On the other hand, proponents of FTAs argue that they, in fact, help to improve wages and labor standards in developing countries. The USCMA may just be a testament to the latter theory.
Even before U.S. and Canada negotiations began between Mexico, which is considered by many economists to be a developing country, U.S. Democrats stated that Mexico must commit to making major changes to their labor laws before any proceedings would take place. This had a profound impact on Mexico’s Labor Laws: As per the USCMA, Mexico was committed to drafting new provisions for workers’ rights and effectively enforcing the new laws through government action, which includes appointing and training inspectors, monitoring compliance, and properly investigating suspected violations. In addition, the USCMA adds a new rapid response mechanism to provide for an independent investigation of workers’ rights violations (as opposed to Mexican-sponsored government investigations). Mexico must adhere to stringent reporting requirements on the country’s implementation of labor reforms, or be found guilty of violating the agreement. To assist with the implementation of the new laws, Mexico’s president submitted his budget proposals to Mexico’s Congress, requesting $523 million for the first stages of labor reform.
With these foundations in place, Mexico has signed into law unprecedented labor provisions. Primarily, Mexico must eliminate all forms of forced labor. Secondly, for the first time in history, Mexican workers can now join labor unions of their choice, vote for union representatives by secret ballot, and be allowed access to confidential information about union finances. Unions will be required to gain the support of a majority of workers before ratifying a collective bargaining agreement. Lastly, an independent court must be created in Mexico in order to resolve disputes between union workers and employers. Firms must legally recognize workers’ rights to strike, or face legal proceedings.
While it may take some time to gauge the impact of the provisions, the USMCA, despite the critiques of many labor activists, has created and shaped a major improvement to labor rights and justice in Mexico.
USMCA: A Missed Opportunity to Advance Womens’ Rights
Gender discrimination continues to be an issue well into the 21st century. Even in the United States, which is considered to be one of the most progressive nations in the world, about four-in-ten women say that they have faced work-based gender descrimination. While it is, in fact, illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on their gender, working females consistently report earning less than their male counterparts for the same job, being passed over for promotions and assignments, and experiencing sexual advances from male superiors.
The situation is even more grim in Mexico, which is an extension of the many violations against women’s rights in Latin America. Although Mexican labor laws prohibit explicit gender-based discrimination, they may inadvertently discriminate against women. For instance, domestic workers (which by a vast majority – 90% – are women) are not protected under federal labor laws. Secondly, the labor law directly discriminates against women by offering parental leave only to those who have given birth, acquitting male parents of any responsibilities of caring for a new-born. As a result, Mexican women have drastically lower participation rates in the labor market, with only 10% of all senior level positions being held by women and men being 88 more likely to be promoted than women. In addition, Mexico does not have mechanisms in place for reporting discrimination in the workplace.
USCMA parties have agreed that eliminating gender-based discrimination in the workplace is an important goal and have included a chapter in the agreement which emphasizes the parties’ commitment to ending gender-based discrimination and promoting women’s equality in the workplace. This would be accomplished by eliminating discrimination in employment and wages, promoting equal pay, consider issues related to gender-related occupational safety and health, and preventing workplace violenceand harassment against women. Furthermore, the agreement has been extended to include trans women.
However, the USCMA does not lay out a plan for ending structural and social inequalities that give rise to gender-based workplace discrimination in the first place, and as such, misses a significant opportunity to advance workers’ rights and women’s status in society.
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