Electronics Watch Monitoring: Focus on Mexico
"Last year I suffered from hypotension. We worked five weeks in a row, weekends included, nonstop, so we could then exchange these days and get our December holidays. We were also working overtime. People got so burnt out they did not want to stay, simply because they could not stand it anymore. It was physically impossible to continue to work."
—Manuel, electronics worker, interview by CEREAL
According to Mexican labour law, workers can work Sundays and holidays only voluntarily and must then be paid a 25% premium for Sunday and three times their normal wage for holiday work. But workers in some electronics factories in Mexico are now forced to work on Sundays and holidays at their normal rate of pay as an "exchange" for the two weeks the companies shut down in December. This is one of the findings of The Labour Studies and Action Centre (CEREAL), the Electronics Watch monitoring partner in Mexico, in its Regional Risk Assessment, soon to be published for affiliates. CEREAL, which has conducted extensive research on the electronics industry in Mexico, also highlights risks of breach of the following standards:
Freedom of association: Nearly all electronics factories have signed illegitimate collective contracts—known as "protection contracts "—with a non-representative trade union. Workers usually do not know they are affiliated to a particular trade union, and the contract itself contains terms no more favourable than those guaranteed by law. Workers who attempt to form an independent union are often fired and blacklisted for other employment.
Overtime: Mexican labour law allows employers to request employees to work up to nine hours of overtime per week beyond their regular 48-hour workweek. But according to a CEREAL survey, electronics workers are required to work an average of nine hours and 37 minutes overtime weekly, and during periods of high production, assembly workers may be required to work up to twelve hours daily during a whole month without days off.
Health and safety: Electronics assembly workers may be exposed to substances such as flux, which in some cases contains lead, chemical solvents, and dust from the production of ink cartridges. But workers often do not know the type of chemicals they work with, their possible adverse health effects, and how to protect themselves.
Wrongful termination: More than 80% of all workers who seek advice from CEREAL have been illegally terminated. CEREAL has discovered that workers may be forced to sign resignation letters under the threat of being blacklisted for employment, or undated resignation letters at the time of their recruitment, so that the employer does not have to pay the legally required three months of severance pay upon termination.
Electronics Watch has also initiated monitoring projects in China, the Philippines, and the Czech Republic.