Unions join the defense of migrant workers in Mexico


Given the increase in migration in the country, labor groups have entered the fight for the rights of this population, addressing it from the labor aspect and with the financial and training support of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The woman’s goal was not Mexico, but the United States, but in undocumented migration, plans sometimes change. “Now you need two basic things: where to sleep and a job,” says Julia Gómez, director of the Resource Center for Migrant Workers (CRTM).

This center is the only one of its kind in Latin America, since it arose and is managed by a labor organization: United Unions with Modern Mexico (SUCOMM). The financial resources are provided by the International Labor Organization (ILO). “We started in Tijuana, Baja California and we have just opened the second headquarters in Cancún, Quintana Roo,” says Julia Gómez in an interview.

The activist exemplifies the work they carry out with the case of this Colombian woman who arrived in Cancun, but she could not continue on her path. Without knowing anyone, without money and with the fear of not having residence documents, she had been sleeping on the street.

There are different non-profit organizations dedicated to defending the rights of migrants. However, they cannot cope with the mobility crisis and few address the labor aspect.

Between January and July 2023, 317,334 events of people in an irregular migration situation have been registered, as reported by the National Migration Institute (INM). It also reports 105,311 “visitors for humanitarian reasons” for the seventh month of the year.

“We support cases like this, but we are not an immigration agency. She has asked us for help to have a job and we will try to get it, but first we have to decide where she is going to sleep, we cannot leave her in the park where she had been the last few days. So, to provide the help for which the center was created, they will first have to resolve other obstacles.

“We do not send them to irregular work, because we do not want their rights to be violated. The last thing we want is for you to suffer some type of aggression at work, from a work accident to the lack of guarantee of your rights. Therefore, we are going to accompany her and refer her to her official authorities and find her a shelter, we are not going to leave her on the street.”

Migrant workers and employers

Job insertion is the main objective of the center, “to inform migrants of their rights and the process for decent employment,” says Julia Gómez. “The other is the defense of their labor rights, access to justice in cases of exploitation, human trafficking, detention of documents.”

In addition to the labor advice for equitable hiring and rights provided by the CRTM, they also provide information on conflict resolution mechanisms, “which really is conciliation. It is more difficult for a migrant to access labor judicial proceedings due to the fact that they are mobile.” This is more possible for refugees, she adds.

In 2022, SUCOMM—which brings together maquila personnel in Tijuana and was created in 2017—opened the first headquarters of the center for migrant workers, a model that the ILO has launched in countries on other continents.

But they soon realized that they could not limit themselves to strictly work matters. So the advice is also about managing procedures, immigration and identification, regularizing your stay to obtain a Federal Taxpayer Registry (RFC) and a social security number.

“This part is very important, because we link them to workers and employers” and they need all these documents to work in the formal sector. But then another enormous task opens up: “Advise employers, so that they know that a migrant person comes to collaborate with our society and can be hired.”

Before creating the center, one of the union’s first actions to support the migrant population was to create a care manual aimed at companies. Despite being a border area, where people converge who wait there to cross into the United States or are returned from that country, in Tijuana many companies do not know how to hire and manage migrant personnel, she points out.

This happens from the first people with whom they have contact, “such as those who attend the reception or the guard at the entrance, tell them that since they are migrants, they cannot work there and prevent or hinder them from speaking with Human Resources.”

The idea that prevails in society and companies is that, even having a visitor card for humanitarian reasons, migrants do not have the right to be hired and they are wrong, he emphasizes, “with that document they can have formal employment.”

But although there is a lot of misinformation, companies in Tijuana “have been very open to learning and then training Human Resources. Or they look for us if they have any questions in specific hiring cases.”

A recurring question at the beginning was whether they had to pay higher premiums to the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), more taxes or any other extra charge for hiring migrants, says the activist. “And no, the Immigration Law allows up to 10% of its workforce to be foreign personnel, and those extra costs are no greater than if they hire a new Mexican element.”

They must also be clear, continues Julia Gómez, that “they must be guaranteed the same labor rights as a Mexican person. In the advice we have provided to them we emphasize that in no way can it discriminate against them or make a difference.”

For all this, they rely on civil society organizations and the City Council, she says. In this way they have created an agenda of migrant labor inclusion.

Are unions corrupt?

“As a Mexican, of course I didn’t believe in the union. Because of all the corruption that existed for decades in most union organizations, I did not trust them,” Julia Gómez is honest.

Her career had been in civil society organizations and she was a little skeptical of this project. But “it has been a new way of seeing unionism.” It is not common for a union organization to allocate resources to support workers who are not part of its ranks, much less the migrant population.

With the new center in Cancún, the ILO and SUCOMM hope that the initiative will be replicated by other unions in Central American and Caribbean countries, and that a Mesoamerican corridor of labor assistance for migrants can soon be created.

The CRTM in that town in southeastern Mexico is directed by Alicia Ramírez and has financial support from the ILO. Recently opened, the case of the Colombian migrant arrived.

She helped her to apply for a regular stay permit, which is valid for 180 days. With that and the shelter to which they have channeled her, they have given her a first respite, but they need to get her a temporary job.

She still plans to come to the United States, but she also begins to doubt it. Whatever the case, she will need money and “we are not going to let her go back to the streets, where she could be picked up or captured for sexual exploitation,” says Julia Gómez.

Source: El Economista