The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD) filed a complaint with the Mexican Department of Labor on Monday against Alabama’s harsh immigration law, HB 56. The SEIU, which represents 2.1 million workers in North America, wrote in the complaint that the law violates international human rights and labor rights standards and is in direct conflict with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Specifically, both organizations argue that HB 56 contradicts the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation—a supplemental labor agreement to NAFTA—by “creating a climate of fear and intimidation that chills immigrant workers and their co-workers who seek to form trade unions, bargain collectively or participate in other worker advocacy organizations.” The complaint goes on to claim that HB 56 contributes to increased racial discrimination, minimum wage and overtime violations, workplace health and safety hazards, and discrimination against workers who appear foreign.
The Mexican Labor Department will now launch an investigation into the allegations. “We are confident they will see HB 56 for what it is: an immoral racial profiling law that now threatens workers and economic stability,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's International Secretary-Treasurer. SEIU filed a similar complain last month with the International Labour Organization.
Monday’s complaint focuses on the economic and labor consequences of HB 56, but this type of harsh immigration legislation also takes a significant social toll on immigrant families, and particularly children—including many who are U.S. citizens—argues Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco in, “The Dream Deferred,” published last week in the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly.
An article in the fall issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, explores the record of Chinese state-owned mining corporations on labor and the environment. In “Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?” three researchers from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) explore the impact of China’s foreign direct investment in natural resource extraction in Peru—underlining China’s increasing economic footprint in emerging regions like Latin America.
The article highlights an issue that is of growing concern. Just this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 122-page report outlining labor abuses by Chinese firms operating in copper mines in Zambia. The HRW paper states that the Chinese firms clamp down on union activity, promote low pay compared to the international average of copper mines, enforce 18-hour workdays, and operate mines with workplace safety concerns. The Chinese embassy in the Zambian capital of Lusaka has flatly denied HRW’s charges.
In comparing the practices of two OECD-owned companies to those of two Chinese companies, the PIIE scholars note some alarming differences in adherence to international labor and environmental standards. For example, the Shougang Corporation, which purchased the Hierro Perú mine in 1992, “angered the local population by cutting the Peruvian workforce in half and bringing in Chinese laborers. It reduced the quantity and quality of workers’ housing, while leaving blocks of homes once occupied by workers vacant in a town with an acute housing shortage.”
Nonetheless, Chinese firms may be treading a different path since the days of their earliest investments. According to the PIIE research, the Aluminum Corporation of China “appears to be working to avoid the behavior of Shougang.” It has not imported labor from China, has conducted public hearings with members of the local community, and has invested in infrastructure and community development.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
An often overlooked policy challenge for Colombia is how to safeguard the country’s informal workforce. Some of these workers do not have health security or pension funding, and they earn less than the monthly legal minimum wage (“Smml” in Spanish).
But it is also a challenge to officially identify this group within the bounds of Colombia’s labor system. And attention is long overdue. In the first of two posts on this topic, I share some troubling statistics on this stunningly large segment of workers: about 63 percent of all employees, or roughly 12.2 million Colombian citizens in total.
The term “informal employment” is often used wrongly in Colombia. As labor economist Juan Carlos Guataquí notes, “informal” often refers to a business that employs fewer than five people. The term does not take in to account the quality or conditions of employment—which matter more to workers.
Guataquí adds: “The possibility exists that workers in small businesses, in spite of being fully covered by the benefits of social security and job stability, turn out to be classified as ‘informal workers.’” For this reason, Colombia’s labor system is ripe with a shockingly large number of unprotected employees who go entirely unrecognized.
In a series of votes late Wednesday, Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved a 6.8 percent increase in the minimum wage to 545 reais a month ($326.50), from 510 reais. Labor unions and some politicians had sought to increase the wage to as high as 600 reais. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved next week.
The approval is considered an important victory for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who took office on January 1. Although she was elected by a landslide last October and her governing coalition holds a majority in Congress, that coalition is itself made up of politically disparate groups, including everything from radical leftists and union leaders to socially conservative Christians.
Wednesday’s approval by a strong majority in the lower house shows Rousseff was able to rally her coalition even on politically sensitive issues for her labor constituency. Nonetheless, she risks losing some of her popularity by pushing austerity measures, including planned cuts in federal spending. Last week Rousseff’s government announced a goal of reducing the federal budget for 2011 by 50 billion reais ($30 billion), as she seeks to curb inflation and hold down interest rates. Inflation reached a six-year high of 6 percent in 2010.
Limiting increases to the minimum wage is important because the wage is used to calculate a range of government salaries and benefits, including federally-funded pension funds. Each real added to the minimum wage amounts to a 300 million reais ($180 million) annual increase in federal spending.
Under Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, the minimum wage increased nearly 60 percent between 2002 and 2010, which helped millions move out of poverty and earned him enormous popularity. Current union leaders critical of Rousseff’s proposal say the limited increase in minimum wage and other measures of fiscal austerity will hurt the poor and working class the most.
A 2006 agreement between Lula and labor unions, which Rousseff has pledged to extend, determined that the minimum wage increase would be calculated by adding the previous year’s rate of inflation to the rise in GDP of two years ago. The Brazilian economy stagnated in 2009, meaning the government only had to increase the wage in line with inflation this year. It will face a more difficult decision next year, when the wage rise will have to reflect Brazil’s 2010 economic growth rate of 7.5 percent.