Women unionists must be part of decision-making

FES in Mexico is supporting female workers to integrate their long-promoted demands in the new Federal Labour Law, following Mexico's most important constitutional reform of the past 100 years concerning labour justice.

Photo: Ines Gonzalez, Photo by Gabino Jimenez / Reforma Laboral para Todos

"For labour unions to transition towards democratization, women have to be included in the decision-making processes," says Ines Gonzalez, trade unionist and project coordinator at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Mexico.

The Federal Labour Law in Mexico is under revision after a historic constitutional reform in 2017 concerning labour justice in the country. Ines Gonzales, who since 2003 coordinates trade union activities with a focus on gender work, in March helped organize the only forum promoting a gender perspective in the year-long debate on labour law reforms.

On occasion of the event, we spoke to Ines about the context in which trade unions operate in Mexico, the working group bringing together feminists and trade unionists that organized the event, and the challenges for achieving a gender-responsive labour reform in Mexico that will also integrate the demands of female unionists in the country.

How did you come to work in this political field?

I started my career as a bank employee during the nationalization of the banking sector in 1982. With the nationalization of the bank, banks started to have their own labour unions. The unions were formed by a presidential decree and therefore lacked democracy, progressivism and gender representation. For these reasons I decided to join the labour union in April 1983.

From this moment onwards, I was a union leader. I became the Gender Secretary for the entire Mexican banking sector. In this position I could make some significant changes in the gender policies of the unions, so that the banking sector’s gender parity could also be reflected in the labour unions. In my position as a national union leader I became part of the labour union world, nationally and internationally. During those times, I reached out to Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and underwent training by this institution. Subsequently, I became one of the organization’s affiliates.

In 1991, the Mexican banks underwent another wave of privatization and finally in 2002 my bank was integrated into the Spanish bank Santander, which had bought my bank two years earlier. This caused mass firings, which included me. Simultaneously, the bank took control of the labour union. Having been an affiliate of FES, I was later invited by the representative to fill in the vacant position of Labour Unions and Gender coordinator in February 2003.

As part of this work, every year we organise the School of Young Unionists together with the different labour unions of association of the independent unions in Mexico, the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores or UNT. Additionally, we are in close contact with women unionists of the progressive Mexican labour unions and keep up a fruitful collaboration with the progressive Mexican labour lawyers and academics. Finally, we seek exchange with all the unions of the Mexican automotive industry, due to that industry’s importance for the Mexican economy.

What is the state of trade union work currently in Mexico? What are the biggest challenges women labour unionist face in the country?

Currently Mexico’s labour unions have a very bad image and very few advocates. The vast majority of Mexico’s labour unions are corporate unions that do not interfere with the government’s labour policies, characterized by very low salaries and precarious working conditions. In addition, Mexico has a historically low rate of unionized workers, only around 10 per cent. Another relevant phenomenon is the Protection Contracts, which are collective contracts signed without the participation and knowledge of the working women and men. These contracts have worsened collective bargaining.

The biggest challenge women unionists face are the structures within Mexican labour unions, still are dominated by men, who often do not have gender awareness. Because of these structures, there is no programme for equality of opportunity and treatment. There are many initiatives to change this, but the structural problems lead to a very slow adoption of the international standards of equality, opportunity and equal treatment.

What are your personal recommendations to tackle mentioned challenges?

There are different ways: To have a transition of the labour unions towards democratization, women have to be included in the decision-making procedures. To achieve this, there must be a plan for equality and equality of opportunities, approved by the Labour Unions’ Congress with its own budget. Additionally, it is necessary to have labour laws that promote the gender equality in the labour unions. Another strong requirement is educational policies within the unions to change the gender perception.

You recently organized an event that dealt with the demands of having gender-balanced labour reforms. Can you tell us a bit about the event?

In February 2017 the most important constitutional reform of the last 100 years concerning labour justice was issued which requires changes to the Federal Labour Law, to adapt it to the constitutional reform. This is a grand opportunity for the female workers to include their long-promoted demands in this new law. These demands include: the integration of gender clauses into collective contracts; the formation of the labour union’s committees according to the gender proportionality within the company; the application of labour justice considering the gender perspective; and the advancement of transparency, a right that mainly empowers women.

In this context, we organized in the Chamber of Deputies [the Upper house of the national legislature] the forum Reforma laboral para todos y todas ["Labour reform for all men and women"], where lawyers, feminists, legislators, unionists, and female and male workers participated. This forum was organized by the Grupo de Trabajo de Género y Sindicatos ["Gender and trade union working group"], integrating feminists and female labour unionists, which was founded in 2017 by the initiative of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. During the event, proposals for a labour reform with a gender perspective were presented. This forum was the only one with a gender approach to have be held in a year-long period of debate about the labour reform and has therefore become a reference point for initiatives for a labour reform with a gender perspective.

How can the recommendations that arose during this event be achieved in Mexico? Who needs to get engaged and how?

In order to progress on inclusive labour legislation, we must firstly have a proposal for labour reform drawn up from women’s viewpoint, with which we can get involved in the legislative debate. Secondly, we must make alliances with the progressive political forces and legislators who will be responsible for the passing of the laws. Lastly, we must achieve broad participation by society in these matters; to accomplish this, we need to disseminate the issue as widely as possible, and that is why we created the political campaign Reforma laboral para todos [Labour reform for all], which you can find under reformalaboralparatodos.mx [link in Spanish]. ###

Support the campaign “Labour reform for all” in Mexico by spreading the word. To find out more about the work by FES on this and other topics in Mexico, visit the country office website.

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