Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the MORENA party coalition won the presidential election in generally free and fair multiparty elections in 2018. In the June midterm elections, citizens voted for all members of the Chamber of Deputies, 15 governors, state legislators, and mayors across the country. The elections were generally free and fair.
The National Guard and state and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, which began operations in 2019, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. In 2019 the Federal Police was disbanded, and in May 2020 all remaining assets and personnel transferred to the National Guard. A 2019 constitutional amendment grants the president the authority to use the armed forces to protect internal and national security through 2024. Most National Guard personnel are seconded from the army and navy and have the option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration law. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which security force elements acted independently of civilian control. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, military, and other governmental officials; forced disappearance by government agents; torture and degrading treatment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists; acts of corruption; insufficient investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
Impunity and extremely low rates of prosecution remained a problem for all crimes, including human rights abuses and corruption. There were reports some government agents were complicit with international organized criminal gangs, and prosecution and conviction rates were low for these abuses.
Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs, and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, bribery, intimidation, and other threats, resulting in high levels of violence and exploitation, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but the vast majority remained uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. Efforts focused on implementation of the 2019 labor law reform that transformed the labor justice system. The reforms provide workers with the right to freely elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements through a secret ballot process before they are registered. The reforms prevent the registration of collective bargaining agreements known as “protection contracts,” which nonrepresentative unions often negotiated and signed without the knowledge of workers and undermined genuine collective bargaining. The reforms call for the creation of independent labor courts to replace the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) that favored corporatist unions in the resolution of disputes and facilitated the registration of protection contracts. The reforms also establish an expedited and more transparent judicial process for unions to obtain collective bargaining rights.
In addition to a more impartial and streamlined judicial process for labor disputes, the reforms transfer the registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements from the CABs to a new independent Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center. The Federal Center also carries out mandatory pre-judicial conciliations at the federal level, with local conciliation centers carrying out the same function at the state level. The reforms establish a four-year timeline for implementation designed to end May 1, 2023, but the government established an accelerated timeline to complete implementation by May 2022 and remained on track to meet that goal.
The government continued implementing the labor reforms in a phased manner, with the reform coming online in eight states in November 2020, and phase two started on November 3 with 13 states, and phase three to be concluded on May 1, 2022, for the remaining states. As of July, 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered required amendments to their amended statutes to incorporate new secret ballot and gender equity requirements with the CABs. As of July, 94 percent of active unions under federal jurisdiction had registered their amended statutes with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), but only 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered their amendments with the CABs. The deadline for unions to amend and register their statutes, originally set to expire in May 2020, was suspended due to COVID-19, reestablished in late 2020, and continued as of November.
Responsibility for registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements, including amendments to their statutes, shifted to the Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center in November 2020 for the eight phase-one states. The Federal Center took over registration functions nationwide on November 3 and was preparing to launch a national union registry to contain all files related to union registration and statutes, collective bargaining agreements, and union financial statements.
On May 1, the role of verifying the process for unions to organize a secret ballot vote for workers to approve or reject existing collective bargaining agreements within the four-year period established by the reforms (legitimization process) transitioned from the STPS to the Federal Center. As part of that process, the Federal Center published a new legitimization protocol to include a mechanism that allows for submission of complaints regarding alleged irregularities that may happen prior to, during, and after the vote. The Federal Center, however, estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of those collective bargaining agreements would undergo a legitimization vote because the worksite where the agreement was valid had closed, the work for which the agreement was negotiated had concluded, or the contract was a protection contract held by a nonrepresentative union. As of September workers had reviewed and voted on 1,790 collective bargaining agreements, less than 1 percent of the total number of agreements.
Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions and their leaders must file for registration with the Federal Center. The Federal Center and the new federal labor courts are designed to handle all matters related to collective bargaining agreements, but until the Federal Center establishes its offices in all the states, labor disputes in states without a Federal Center presence are to be handled by the CABs. The CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives, with worker representation on the CABs selected based on majority representation, which was held by entrenched nondemocratic unions that sign “protection” contracts with complicit employers to secure low wages.
By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own statutes. Under the labor reform, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, the union must first obtain a certificate of representativeness from the Federal Center demonstrating it has support from at least 30 percent of workers to be covered by the agreement. Before a strike may take place, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, or the appropriate labor court once they are operational. Workers, the employer, or an interested third party may request the CAB or court rule on the legality of the strike, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. In June the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision confirming that the exercise of the right to strike suspends the processing of collective conflicts of an economic nature that may be pending before the court and the topics that they present, unless the workers express in writing their agreement to submit the conflict to the decision of the court. This decision prevented a protection union from attempting to stop the strike by filing a challenge to the Mineros Union’s control of the existing collective bargaining agreement at the San Martin mine in Sombrerete, Zacatecas.
The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for the reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers in the job for less than one year.
The government’s failure to enforce labor laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor provisions in states that had not yet implemented the new labor justice model. The CABs’ continued failures to administer and oversee procedures related to union activity impartially and transparently, such as union elections, registrations, and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to suppress opposition to an existing union in bargaining-rights elections. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of temporary or fake employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. The CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions.
In April the STPS suspended a legitimization vote at the General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato, due to serious irregularities during the vote. Workers argued that the protectionist union holding the collective bargaining agreement pressured workers to legitimize the agreement, offered bribes, and tampered with ballots. After the STPS canceled the vote, in May the rapid response mechanism under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement commenced, and the government agreed to review a denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights at the plant, confirming the denial of rights. In July an arrangement was reached on a course of remediation, which included a new collective bargaining agreement legitimization vote under the supervision of the STPS, with observers from the National Electoral Institute and the International Labor Organization. The new vote took place on August 17-18, and a majority of workers rejected the collective bargaining agreement. As a result other unions, including a new union formed by workers after the vote, gained the right to seek representation rights and negotiate a new agreement. The STPS certification of the new election set November 3 as the date for termination of the existing agreement, thus establishing that representation rights would be determined under the new labor reform rules and institutions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with those for similar crimes, very few cases were successfully prosecuted. State governments reported investigating 12 suspected forced labor cases in 2020. Federal and state labor inspectorates conducted nearly 30,000 labor inspections in formally registered businesses in 2020 but did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.
Forced labor persisted in the domestic service and in child-care, manufacturing, mining, food-processing, construction, tourism, begging, street-vending, leather-goods-production, and agriculture sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. Women and children were subjected to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.). Many workers were compelled into forced labor through debt bondage, threats of violence, and nonpayment of wages by recruiters and employers.
Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector, particularly in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. In 2016, the most recent data available, INEGI reported that 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work, and only 3 percent had a formal written contract.
Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border with the United States. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.
Criminal groups became increasingly involved in the illegal timber trade in Chihuahua, which accounted for 70 percent of the wood consumed in the country. Drug traffickers involved in illegal logging recruited and kidnapped indigenous persons and children in isolated or displaced communities, withheld their wages, forced them to conduct illicit activities, and often threatened death if they tried to leave.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, including all work in the agricultural sector. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations. The pandemic severely impacted the economy, resulting in a significant increase in the number of children engaging in child labor. Despite a government program to transmit public education classes via internet, television, and radio during the pandemic, reports suggested that at least 2.5 million children did not continue their basic education.
At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Prosecutor General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violate such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections and refers cases of child labor to the Prosecutor General’s Office for sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with other similar laws but were rarely enforced. In 2020 the STPS Federal Labor Inspectorate conducted almost 30,000 labor inspections nationwide but reported finding only one case of child labor. State labor inspectors, however, reported finding evidence of child labor, particularly in agricultural establishments.
State-level prosecutors reported investigating at least 199 cases involving child trafficking victims in 2020. The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction.
Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies, in agriculture, and in construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector in which most child laborers worked. Inspectors generally were permitted to examine the informal sector only in response to complaints. Social programs to combat child labor did not address all sectors where child labor occurred. Children performed dangerous tasks in agriculture in the production of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tomatoes, and tobacco. Children also produced garments, leather goods, and illicit crops such as opium poppies; engaged in illicit activities such as the production and trafficking of drugs; and experienced sexual exploitation, often as a result of human trafficking.
Underage children in urban areas earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places.
According to a 2019 National Child Labor Survey, the number of children ages five to 17 in child labor, including in hazardous household work, was 3.3 million, or approximately 11.5 percent of children in the country. This represented an increase of 11 percent of children from the 2017 INEGI survey. Of all children, 7.1 percent, or two million, were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor law, such as performing hazardous work.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. Federal law specifically proscribes discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, disability, social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. The law mandates that all discrimination cases, including sexual harassment, bypass formerly mandatory conciliation and proceed directly to the labor courts.
Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for other similar laws. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrant workers. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the most recent information available, 12 percent of women were illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common. INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and that 6 percent experienced sexual violence. The government approved the National Work and Employment Program for People with Disabilities 2021-2024, aimed at strengthening labor inclusion of persons with disabilities and supporting the employment of persons with disabilities in decent work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In January 2020 the government raised the minimum wage. The new wage applied to all sectors and allowed an earner to reach or exceed the poverty line. In March the government amended federal labor law to define the minimum wage as the lowest cash amount a worker receives for services rendered during a workday and stipulated it should never be below the inflation rate. Most formal-sector workers (70 percent) received between one and three times the minimum wage.
Federal law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work.
Between September 2020 and June, the STPS reported conducting labor inspections in 22,350 work centers nationwide benefiting more than three million workers. Civil society organizations, however, reported that the number of labor inspections was not sufficient to secure compliance. There were 600 federal labor inspectors to cover the entire country; 60 percent of state level labor authorities had fewer than 10 inspectors. Criminal cases related to such violations were rarely carried out. Penalties for law violations regarding hours and minimum wage were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.
According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach – requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting down hours when it is light – to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays.
Many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers through subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. On April 24, congress approved a reform to the labor law aimed at banning subcontracting of personnel for core or main economic activities in the public and private sectors. Subcontracting is allowed if it is used to perform specialized services unrelated to the main economic activity of businesses or public institutions. The law mandates the creation of a public registry of companies supplying specialized services to verify only registered companies fulfilling tax and administrative requirements may supply those services. According to the Mexican Social Security Institute, as a result of the law 2.7 million workers of the 4.6 million subcontractors moved from formal subcontracting status to a formal direct employment status. Approximately 23 percent of informal workers (6.8 million persons) were employed by formal businesses or organizations but paid in cash off the books to evade taxes and social security payments.
Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains increasingly used hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on new short-term contracts to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal law and restricted workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted that it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, thus limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.
Citizens hoping to obtain temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibitive fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. The government rarely investigated cases of alleged abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the STPS, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied.
The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than receiving daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages were illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure that the workers did not leave. Civil society organizations alleged that workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or child care, many workers took their children to work in the fields.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The STPS has the authority to order labor inspections at any time in the event of labor law violations, imminent risk to employees, or workplace accidents. Penalties for law violations regarding occupational safety and health regulations were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.
News reports indicated poor working conditions in some factories. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse.
According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2020 there were approximately 278,000 workplace accidents, resulting in 666 deaths.
Hundreds of thousands of workers continued to work in foreign-owned factories, mainly in northern border states, producing electronics, medical equipment, and auto parts. Several outbreaks of COVID-19 resulted in multiple deaths. Some companies reportedly did not implement effective protective measures for employees, and one factory, owned by Eaton Corporation in Baja California, was operating illegally and was closed after it placed chains on its doors to prevent 800 workers from leaving.
Informal Sector: According to INEGI informal workers represented 56 percent of total workers in the country as of the second quarter of the year. Labor inspections focused on the formal sector, leaving informal workers with no labor law protection. Informal workers were in every sector of the economy, with agriculture as the sector with the greatest number of informal workers. While on average informal workers earned less than the minimum wage, in some areas, such as near the northern border, informal employment could pay more than formal employment in the manufacturing sector. Informal workers lacked access to social protection mechanisms such as health care and retirement benefits.