* PRI lawmakers flex muscle on behalf of unions
* Proposal seeks to make labor market more flexible
By Miguel Gutierrez
MEXICO CITY, Sept 26 A Mexican congressional
committee on Wednesday gave provisional backing to a draft labor
reform seen as a test of cooperation between the two parties
expected to shape legislation for the incoming administration.
The proposal, crafted by outgoing President Felipe Calderon,
was watered down to protect unions, but it aims to boost
employment by making it easier for businesses to hire and fire
The bill ran into resistance from President-elect Enrique
Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and was
gutted of provisions to make the country's trade unions more
Hours of debate in the lower chamber's labor committee
highlighted opposition to the union-related provisions, a signal
that the PRI's congressional bloc will not support measures to
rein in its longtime union allies.
The full chamber is expected to vote on the labor proposal
The union provisions supported by lawmakers from Calderon's
conservative National Action Party, or PAN, sought to impose
external audits on the unions, force them to divulge details of
their balance sheets to members, and give workers a legal right
to seek suspension of the fees they must pay to unions.
Millions of dollars are controlled by union leaders who are
under no obligation to divulge spending decisions to their
Mexico's powerful union leaders, several of whom are newly
elected PRI lawmakers, fought to weaken language that would
undermine union power.
Luis Alberto Villarreal, leader of the PAN's lawmakers in
the lower house, told Mexican newspaper Reforma, "the PRI
protects ... the unions and the union leaders who refuse to make
their activities transparent."
The bill approved by the committee would regulate
outsourcing, make work contracts more flexible and allow hourly
But lawmakers sidestepped proposals to require that the
election of union leadership be free, direct and secret, and
ensure that union members receive information on how funds are
spent. The bill also excluded a provision that would have set a
time limit on strikes.
The modified bill includes language that would oblige unions
to consider the right of workers to know how union funds are
"The right to strike, to associate, trade union freedom and
the right of workers to control their own rules are, in our
view, protected in this bill," PRI lawmaker Ricardo Pacheco
The majority of the country's unions emerged during the
PRI's 71-year rule that came to an end in 2000. During that
time, unions were pillars of support for the PRI, which is set
to return to power when Pena Nieto takes office on Dec. 1.
Mexico's next president has indicated his support for labor
reform in Latin America's second-biggest economy, one of several
structural reforms he's pushed to boost growth.
Political analysts point to the PRI's old guard as a major
challenge facing Pena Nieto, who has promised far-reaching
fiscal and energy reforms.
According to the PAN, labor reform could generate 400,000
new jobs per year.
Calderon's proposal put the PRI in a tough spot and since it
was fast-tracked as a so-called preferred initiative, lawmakers
must approve or reject it by October.
If the proposal is approved by the lower chamber, it goes to
the Mexican Senate for consideration.
Mexico's federal labor law, with more than 1,000 articles,
dates to the 1930s and hasn't been significantly modified in
more than 40 years.