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NAFTA Ten Years Later: Why the Labour Side Agreement Doesn't Work for Workers

January 1, 2004

(MSN, 2004)

The NAALC does not require the governments of the three signatory countries to raise standards or meet existing minimum international labour standards. The only issue addressed in the agreement is whether a country has persistently failed to enforce its own labour laws.

Although the NAALC process includes a number of stages, to date, none of the 28 complaints to the US, Canadian or Mexican NAOs has resulted in serious action beyond the Ministerial Consultation stage.

Mark Rowlinson, Counsel for the United Steelworkers of America, provides these comments on the ITAPSA case, "We had hoped to gain some measure of justice for the workers at the ITAPSA plant who suffered terrible violence and dangerous working conditions," said "Five years later, [union] representation votes are still not held by secret ballot in Mexico. The system of administrative justice is no better. Workers still do not have the right to freely choose their union and they still suffer terribly unsafe working conditions. In short, in our view, there has been no progress on the issues identified in our Complaint."

According to Linda Delp of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, "unless the governments make a serious effort to resolve the problems in the current [Puebla] case, the side agreement will fade into oblivion as a failed experiment to protect workers' rights in a global economy."

Julia Plascencia of United Students Against Sweatshops echoes this prediction, describing how the NAALC process will lose credibility if the Canadian and US governments fail to press for concrete action by the Mexican government to address the persistent problems documented in the Puebla case.

"Despite commitments made in the NAFTA labour side agreement, Mexican authorities have consistently failed to uphold their own labour laws," said Lynda Yanz. "After 10 years of NAFTA, not one of the 28 complaints made under the NAALC has resulted in any significant improvements in labour law enforcement or in workers' lives. This is not the rosy future Mexican workers were promised by NAFTA's signatories."

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