NAO Case Filed to Stop Illegal Firings at Korean Firm in Mexico


By Pharis Harvey

Four human rights and labor organizations from Mexico and the United States have filed an urgent complaint under the procedures established by the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) - the labor side-agreement to NAFTA - stating that the Mexican government has violated worker rights defined in the NAALC, Mexican Labor Law, and Mexican-ratified ILO Convention. The violations relate to denial of workers' rights to the means to form their own union at Han Young de Mexico, a Korean-owned truck assembly company, and include failure to ensure "(labor) review proceedings are impartial and independent", "proceedings are fair, equitable, and transparent", " not entail...unwarranted delays", "final proceedings are...without undue delay", and to "effectively enforce its labor law".

Over the past seven months, Han Young management has repeatedly violated the rights of workers at their Tijuana plant and the Mexican government has not only stood by, but facilitated and supported these violations. The Han Young workers, during efforts to form their own, independent union, were repeatedly verbally intimidated and harassed, fired for beginning to organize, subject to delays in legally protected hearings and votes, and denied proper procedures for correction of health and safety violations. The Mexican government through its Conciliation and Arbitration Board and other officials supported these efforts to deny worker rights by delaying hearings in the interest of management, failing to enforce regulations that govern proceedings, and overall failing to ensure that workers could organize their own, independent union.

Most recently, Han Young has engaged in additional firings of union leaders and has threatened to fire those who voted for the independent union. As Mary Tong, Executive Director of the San Diego-based Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers stated, "This matter is of extreme urgency given the fact that at this moment, the refusal to date by the Conciliation and Arbitration Board to certify the election results is providing the company the opportunity to engage in firing union supporters while recruiting a new workforce from the southeastern state of Vera Cruz."

Independent witnesses of the workers' struggle include the University of California Labor Occupation Health and Safety specialists, who made recommendations on health and safety improvements, and observers from the Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers of the harassment prior to and during union elections.

This is the seventh complaint filed under NAALC and appears to be exactly the type of case the agreement was meant to govern. International Labor Rights Fund Executive Director, Pharis Harvey has said of this case, "If the NAFTA labor agreement cannot prevent or correct an abuse as flagrant as the Han Young case, its value in defending the rights of workers is nil." He called on the NAO to take swift and decisive action.

The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) is an advocacy organization fighting for worker rights around the globe. ILRF focuses on linking trade expansion to enhancement of worker rights and labor standards in order to more broadly distribute the benefits of increased global trade and economic integration, strengthen democratic polities and civil societies. Based in Washington, D.C., the organization provides information, calls for enforcement of law, advocates for U.S. compliance with international protections of worker rights, urges that labor standards be considered as factors within the international trading system, and encourages development and enforcement of corporate codes of conduct. ILRF can be reached at laborrights [at] .

The Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers (SCMW) is a non-profit organization involving primarily voluntary efforts of community, women's rights and labor activists dedicated to supporting maquiladora workers in the Tijuana region who are organizing to improve their living and working conditions. Founded in 1993, in cooperation with concerned citizens and organizations throughout the U.S., SCMW efforts include: organizing actions, publicizing the workers struggle, supporting Tijuana community leaders and others in the education of workers, and advocating for defense of workers' rights. SCMW can be reached at rumi [at] .

The Asociacion Nacional De Abogados Democraticos (National Association of Democratic Lawyers, ANAD) is a network of legal professionals in Mexico committed to providing legal services, analysis and litigation in the defense of democracy and human rights. Its approximately 230 members include some of the most prestigious human rights authorities in Mexico, including noted specialists in labor law, arbitration, and collective bargaining.

El Sindicato De Trabajadores De La Industria Metalica, Acero, Hierro, Conexos Y Similares (Union of Metal, Steel, Iron and Allied Workers, STIMAHCS) is an independent union, registered nationally with locals representing workers in domestic industry, which agreed to permit the Han Young workers' union to affiliate with it to gain the right to engage in collective bargaining with Han Young.