On June 26, migrant workers, labor and migrants' rights organizations, and labor experts from Canada, Mexico, and the United States called for stronger migrant workers' rights provisions and transnational access to justice in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Convened by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM), the meeting takes place on the eve of United States Trade Representative's hearing on NAFTA negotiating objectives.
With collective experience interviewing tens of thousands of workers in sectors including agriculture, caregiving, hospitality, construction, and food processing, the group of organizations deemed the NAFTA labor side accord inadequate, inaccessible, and inefficient in resolving abuses for migrant workers. Among them, the participant organizations have filed various official complaints under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), following party government failures to enforce and monitor compliance with their own labor laws. Abuses addressed in the complaints include wage theft, discrimination, denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining, and health and safety violations.
"We join with allies from across North America to demand trade policies that reflect migrant workers' voices and experiences," said Rachel Micah-Jones, Executive Director at CDM and the Chair of the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, a coalition of about 30 nonprofit organizations, labor unions and anti-trafficking groups working to end international labor recruitment abuse. "The renegotiated NAFTA must protect migrant workers, ensure transnational access to justice, and extend benefits to workers, instead of merely catering to business interests."
The tri-national working group urges the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to reinforce and not backtrack on migrant workers' rights in the negotiation. The group issued the following recommendations:
Include a Labor Chapter that reflects, at a minimum, the current NAFTA labor principles and additional protections for internationally recruited workers, such as freedom from economic coercion, ability to change employers, and a pathway to citizenship;
Eliminate barriers to accessing justice and benefits, such as legal services, Social Security survivors' benefits, and workers' compensation; and
Include clear, accessible, and enforceable labor dispute resolution timelines and a transparent process.
"I filed a complaint more than 6 years ago under the NAFTA labor side accord and still have not received justice for the abuses I suffered as a migrant worker," said Leonardo Cortez Vitela, a Mexican H-2B worker and member of the Comité de Defensa del Migrante who experienced abuses while working in the U.S. and filed a petition under the existing NAFTA process. "The current process is inadequate for migrant workers."
Several members of the group will testify on Wednesday at the U.S. Trade Representative's hearings on NAFTA renegotiation. Members will also be offering comments in Canada and Mexico.
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) envisions a world where migrant workers' rights are respected and laws and policies reflect their voices. CDM empowers Mexico-based migrant workers to defend and protect their rights as they move between their home communities in Mexico and their workplaces in the United States through education, outreach, and leadership development; intake, evaluation, and referral services; litigation support and direct representation; and policy advocacy. Read more about CDM at www.cdmigrante.org.