January 9, 2009
Smaller working groups of participants met to discuss the particular issues and experiences within their country or region.
Candido Cerón, Elizabeth Robles and Patricia Juan Pineda from the Mexico group
The Mexican working group reported that there has been an increase in the use of homework since 2005, and there have been cutbacks in collective contracts, especially in terms of benefits. The threat of closures has been used against union organizing. While apparel exports have declined, the auto industry has been growing and the female workforce has increased in that sector.
In Honduras, the country working group reported that persecution of union organizers is increasing and the fear of closures is making it more difficult to organize. Workers have been pushed to work long hours and accept more flexible employment relationships, all of which impacts heavily on women's health and their relationship with their communities. The government has introduced a differentiated minimum wage in the south in order to attract more investment, but maquilas are simply shifting from the north to south within the country.
Other Central American working groups reported that the last three years have seen an increase in flexibilization of labour and closures. Many of the closures have affected unionized facilities. Firms often remain active in the region but reincorporate under different names to avoid liability for severance payments to workers. The percentage of female workers in the remaining labour force is declining. While the region saw some transfer of capital to Nicaragua, that trend reversed after the election of a new government in 2007 and three subsequent raises in the country's minimum wage.
Working group session
The Southern American working group noted that while there are differences between the countries included (Peru, Colombia, Argentina) there have been some common impacts. There has been a trend towards the use of smaller workshops, which in Argentina has included a huge rise in homework and informal work. Each country reported a pattern of stagnant wages and precarious employment. Notably, unlike most of Central America, much of the production in South America is for national brands rather than for export to the north.
A cross-cutting issue raised by every working group was the fallout from factory closures since the expiry of the MFA. Even as the seminar got underway, Hanesbrands announced the closure of nine more major factories in the region, and shortly after the seminar ended, Russell Athletic announced the planned closure of a unionized factory down the road from San Pedro Sula. During the seminar, the challenges facing women workers who are retrenched was foremost on peoples’ minds. Numerous individual cases and experiences were raised.
Although most closures have been bitter, difficult and demoralizing, some participants drew attention to precedents won in some instances – for example, with Gildan Activewear during the closure of its facilities in Coahuila, Mexico. One guide to demands that we can make on brands, manufacturers and governments is the recent MFA Forum Guidelines for Responsible Transitions, which sets out responsibilities for all parties that, if followed, would reduce the impacts of factory closures.
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