U.S. National Administrative Office
Bureau of International Labor Affairs
U.S. Department of Labor
Table of Contents
North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation
Cooperation and Consultation
Oversight of Labor Law Enforcement
National Administrative Office
Information Available to the Public - Reading
Appendix 1 - NAALC Process
Appendix 2 - NAO Submissions Timeline
NORTH AMERICAN AGREEMENT ON LABOR COOPERATION
The North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) is a
historic document. Signed on behalf of the United States by President Bill
Clinton, of Mexico by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and of Canada by
Prime Minister Kim Campbell in September 1993, it represents the first instance
in which the United States has negotiated an agreement dealing with labor
standards to supplement an international trade agreement.
The main objective of the NAALC is to improve working conditions and
living standards in the United States, Mexico, and Canada as the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) promotes more trade and closer economic ties among
the three countries. The preferred approach of the Agreement to reach this
objective is through cooperation--exchanges of information, technical
assistance, consultations--a concept that is explicitly recognized in the very
title of the instrument. The Agreement also provides some oversight mechanisms
to ensure that labor laws are being enforced in all three countries. These
oversight mechanisms are aimed at promoting a better understanding by the
public of labor laws and at enhancing transparency of enforcement. The
Agreement does provide the ability to invoke trade sanctions as a last resort
for non-enforcement of labor law by a Party.
The Agreement creates both international and domestic institutions. The
international institution is the Commission for Labor Cooperation, consisting
of a Council supported by a Secretariat. The domestic institutions are the
National Administrative Offices (NAOs), located in each of the countries, and
national or governmental advisory committees.
The Council, which is composed of the three Cabinet-level labor
officials, is the governing body of the Commission.
It has a broad mandate to work cooperatively on labor issues,
including occupational safety and health, child labor, benefits for workers,
minimum wages, industrial relations, legislation on the formation of unions and
the resolution of labor disputes.
An independent Secretariat, which is headed by an Executive
Director appointed by consensus of the three Parties for a fixed term, provides
technical support to the Council.
Among the functions of the Secretariat are to report periodically to
the Council on a wide range of labor issues, including labor law and
administrative procedures, trends and administrative strategies related to
enforcement of labor law, labor market conditions, and human resource
National Administrative Offices were created by each country to
implement the Agreement and to serve as points of contact between Commission
entities and national governments.
NAOs can consult with each other and exchange information on labor
Each country has a right to determine the functions and powers of its
own NAO and how it will be staffed.
The Agreement also allows for each country to establish national and
governmental advisory committees to their NAOs.
The National Advisory Committee for the North American Agreement on
Labor Cooperation was established in 1995 to provide advice to the U.S. NAO on
issues arising under the NAALC, and other matters as they arise in the course
of administering the Agreement. The committee is comprised of 12 members, four
representing the labor community, four representing the business community, two
representing academia and two representing the public at large.
Labor law is defined broadly in the Agreement, to include laws and
regulations, or provisions thereof, directly related to:
- freedom of association and protection of the right to organize;
- the right to bargain collectively;
- the right to strike;
- prohibition of forced labor;
- labor protections for children and young persons;
- minimum employment standards, such as minimum wages and overtime pay,
covering wage earners, including those not covered by collective agreements;
- elimination of employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion,
age, sex, or other grounds as determined by each country's domestic laws;
- equal pay for men and women;
- prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses;
- compensation in cases of occupational injuries and illnesses; and
- protection of migrant workers.
The Agreement obligates each Party to:
- ensure that its labor laws and regulations provide for high labor
standards and to continue to strive to improve those standards;
- promote compliance with and effectively enforce its labor law through
appropriate government action;
- ensure that persons with a legally recognized interest have appropriate
access to administrative, quasi-judicial, judicial, or labor tribunals for
enforcement of its labor law and that proceedings for the enforcement of its
labor law are fair, equitable and transparent;
- ensure that its labor laws, regulations, procedures, and administrative
rulings of general application are promptly published or otherwise made
available to the public and promote public awareness of its labor law.
Cooperation and Consultation
A goal of the Agreement is to resolve issues in a cooperative manner; thus,
it provides numerous opportunities for formal and informal cooperative
consultations. The Agreement provides a mechanism for initial consultations to
take place between the NAOs of the three Parties. Additionally, any matter
within the scope of the Agreement may also be subject to consultations at the
Oversight of Labor Law Enforcement
At the request of any Party, an Evaluation Committee of Experts
(ECEs), composed of independent experts, may be convened if a matter has not
been resolved after ministerial consultations.
- ECEs examine patterns of practice in the enforcement of technical labor
standards by each Party. These standards include: prohibition of forced labor;
labor protections for children and young persons; minimum employment standards,
such as minimum wages and overtime pay; elimination of employment
discrimination; equal pay for men and women; prevention of occupational
injuries and illnesses; compensation in cases of occupational injuries and
illnesses; and protection of migrant workers.
- ECEs will undertake a comparative study and make recommendations on the
matter as it is treated in each of the member countries.
- ECE reports and recommendations shall be considered at a regular session
of the Council.
Following consideration by the Council of an ECE report and consultations
among the Parties, if a Party believes that another Party is demonstrating a
persistent pattern of failure to effectively enforce its occupational safety
and health, child labor or minimum wage technical standards, an arbitral panel
may be established.
- The ultimate outcome of the dispute settlement process may be a monetary
assessment backed by a suspension of trade benefits.
NATIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE
The NAALC calls for the establishment of a National Administrative Office
(NAO) in each of the three NAFTA Parties. Each country opened its NAO on
January 1, 1994. The function of the NAOs is to serve as points of contact with
governmental agencies within a Party, other NAOs and the Secretariat. NAOs are
required to provide information regarding the NAALC and labor law matters in
the three countries to the Secretariat, other NAOs or ECEs, and the public at
The work of the NAO is divided into three basic areas:
- receiving and reviewing of public submissions;
- coordinating tripartite cooperative activities; and
- providing information to the public.
The North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) requires that the
NAOs provide for the receipt and review of submissions on labor law matters in
the other two countries. The NAALC further delineates the types of issues that
may be considered at the various resolution stages of the Agreement. The
framers of the Agreement intended that disputes be addressed and settled
through dialogue and cooperative consultations, initially at the NAO level and
later at the ministerial level. At the NAO and ministerial level, there is a
broad range of issues that may be considered for review. The jurisdictional
authority is narrowed with respect to the subject matter that may be raised at
subsequent levels of review, namely before ECE panels and in Arbitral panels.
The U.S. NAO, in consultation with other government agencies and the public
at large, promulgated procedural guidelines for the review of submissions.
Those guidelines require, among other things:
- the NAO Secretary to accept or decline review of a submission within 60
days of its receipt;
- the decision to accept or deny review of a submission must be published
in the Federal Register;
- if a submission is accepted for review a public report must be issued
within l20 days after acceptance, unless the NAO Secretary deems it appropriate
to extend the time period 60 days; and
- during the review process, a public hearing may be held and notice of
such a hearing must be published 30 days in advance in the Federal Register.
(Appendix 2 is a diagram of the submissions
Any person may file a submission with the U.S. NAO regarding labor law
matters arising in the territory of another Party. The procedural guidelines
require verification of minimum standards in order to begin the review process.
The submission shall address and explain, to the fullest extent possible,
- the matters complained of appear to demonstrate action inconsistent with
another Party's obligations under Part II of the Agreement;
- there has been harm to the submitter or other persons, and, if so, to
- the matters complained of appear to demonstrate a pattern of
non-enforcement of labor law by another Party;
- relief has been sought under the domestic laws of another Party, and, if
so, the status of any legal proceedings; and
- the matters complained of are pending before an international body.
If the submission does not meet these minimum standards, notice may be given
to the submitter that the submission is defective and the submitter may be
given an opportunity to cure the defect.
In general, the Secretary shall accept a submission for review if it raises
issues relevant to labor law matters in the territory of another Party and if a
review would further the objectives of the Agreement.
The NAO also considers other factors in deciding whether to accept or deny a
submission. The NAO may decline to accept all or part of a submission if:
- the submission does not identify clearly the person filing the
submission, is not signed and dated, or is not sufficiently specific to
determine the nature of the request and permit an appropriate review;
- the statements contained in the submission, even if substantiated, would
not constitute a failure of another Party to comply with its obligations under
Part II of the Agreement;
- the statements contained in the submission or available information
demonstrate that appropriate relief has not been sought under the domestic laws
of another Party, or that the matter or a related matter is pending before an
international body; or
- the submission is substantially similar to a recent submission and
significant, new information has not been made available.
The holding of a public hearing is presumed by the guidelines, unless the
NAO deems that a hearing is not a suitable method to gather information. It is
important to note that:
- a hearing is only one of several methods used by the NAO to gather
- a hearing is not a judicial proceeding;
- examination of witnesses is not permitted;
- the Secretary of the NAO or his or her designee is the presiding officer
and is the only person that elicits information from the witnesses;
- generally the rules of evidence are not in effect; and
- persons wishing to present testimony must give notice to the NAO in
writing along with a statement of the testimony to be presented.
After the NAO has gathered all the necessary information, including
information received as a result of consultations with the other NAOs, the
submitter, companies, private consultants and testimony received at the
hearing, it will issue a public report. The focus of the inquiry for purposes
of the public report is to determine whether the information presented
substantiates allegations that the Party in question is failing to enforce its
own labor laws.
Under the NAALC, the preferred approach in reaching its objectives is
through cooperation--exchanges of information, technical assistance, and
consultations. The Agreement recognizes this approach by its title and
addresses it throughout the document. Thus, much of the tripartite activity
focuses on cooperative activities on labor issues, principally developed and
coordinated by the respective NAOs.
Article 11 of the NAALC calls for the ministerial council to promote
cooperative activities between the Parties, as appropriate, regarding:
- occupational safety and health;
- child labor;
- migrant workers of the Parties;
- human resource development;
- labor statistics;
- work benefits;
- social programs for workers and their families;
- programs, methodologies and experiences regarding productivity
- labor-management relations and collective bargaining procedures;
- employment standards and their implementation;
- compensation for work-related injury or illness;
- legislation relating to the formation and operation of unions,
collective bargaining and the resolution of labor disputes, and its
- the equality of women and men in the workplace;
- forms of cooperation among workers, management and government;
- the provision of technical assistance, at the request of a Party, for
the development of its labor standards; and
- such other matters as the Parties may agree.
The Parties have focused cooperative activities on labor issues that were
viewed as meriting particular concern by all three countries and on those
issues raised in the submissions filed with the NAOs. The intended goals of the
activities are to provide specific technical training and expertise, to create
mediums for exchange of best practices and information that will facilitate
better understanding of each country's labor laws, policies and practices, and
to promote awareness of current labor issues in the three countries.
Following are examples of cooperative activities programs undertaken by the
- Industrial Relations and Worker Rights Initiatives
Cooperative activities in this area initially focused on providing fora for
government officials, employers, workers, and academics in the three countries
to better understand the operation of the labor relations systems of the three
NAALC signatories, as well as to exchange views on the effectiveness of those
systems. The workshops promoted useful exchanges on building constructive
- Occupational Safety and Health Initiatives
Seminars and training programs have emphasized the development and
maintenance of effective programs to eliminate safety and health hazards in all
three countries through strengthening safety and health standards; enhancing
inspection programs; heightening awareness among workers and employers on
issues in high hazard industries; creating links between experts in government,
industry, and labor across North America on safety and health issues of mutual
interest; and identifying and collecting statistical data to evaluate the
impact of worker safety and health conditions on economic activity.
- Employment Training Initiatives
The objective of the employment and training initiatives have focused on
fostering awareness of key employment and job training issues and promoting
knowledge of effective programs within the three countries. The idea has been
to bring government, employer, and labor representatives together to share
their expertise on matters such as developing worker skills, improving access
to training, promoting fairness in employment, and ensuring security for
displaced workers. Workshops have concentrated on income security programs,
equality issues in the workplace, and responding to the growth of non-standard
work and changing work time patterns and practices.
- Child Labor and Gender Initiatives
Cooperation in this area has resulted in conferences that focused on
information exchange, best practices, and education. The conferences examined
inappropriate participation of children and youth in the workforce and explored
ways to improve conditions and safety for children and youth legally in the
workplace. Initiatives have also explored the status of women in the workplace.
Attendees at these events come from government, business, organized labor,
academic and non-government organizations.
Information Available to the Public - Reading
The official notice which established the U.S. NAO, published in the Federal
Register on April 7, 1994, requires the following:
- The NAO Secretary shall maintain a reading room where submissions,
public files, transcripts of hearings, Federal Register notices, reports,
advisory committee information, copies of submissions, and other public
information shall be available for inspection during normal business hours.
- Information submitted by a person to the Office in confidence shall be
treated as exempt from public inspection if the information meets the
requirements of 5 U.S.C. 552 (b). Each person requesting such treatment shall
clearly mark "submitted in confidence" on each page or portion of a
page so submitted and furnish an explanation as to the need for exemption from
public inspection. If the material is not accepted in confidence, it will be
returned promptly to the submitter with an explanation for the action taken.
- The Office shall be sensitive to the needs of individuals'
confidentiality and shall make every effort to protect such interests.
In addition, the Library of the Reading Room has various reports and
resource materials pertaining to activities in which the three signatories to
the NAALC are involved. These materials include: labor law documents from the
United States, Canada and Mexico; proceedings of the various cooperative
activities described above; studies and reports published by the Labor
Secretariat; non-confidential documents relating to submissions, including
public reports; and various other materials related to Mexico, Canada, the
NAFTA and labor law.
Copies of public information can be obtained by contacting the Office of Trade Agreement Implementation at TAATC@dol.gov or by telephone at (202) 693-4900.
To receive copies of any of these materials via mail, please call the NAO at
(202) 693-4900 or write to:
U.S. National Administrative Office
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210
Once a submission is filed with NAO (full scope), the NAO has consultations with other NAO's (full scope). Then, the NAO issues its Public Report. Unresolved matters go forward to Minister to Minister Consultations (full scope). After such consultations, unresolved, trade related, mutually recognized matters (health and safety, technical labor standards) may go before an Evaluation Committee of Experts (ECE), who will issue a report to the Ministerial Council, and further Minister to Minister Consultations may result. If the matter still is unresolved, a Ministerial Council Special Session may occur. If not resolved, the matter (health and safety, child labor, minimum wage) may progress to dispute resolution. If still not resolved, sanctions may occur.
During this process, the role of the Secretariat is to write publications/reports and to provide staff/technical assistance to the Ministerial Council.
NAO Submissions Timeline
Once a submission is received by the NAO, the NAO Secretary has 60 days to accept or to decline a submission for review. If accepted, the NAO has 120 days with a possible extension of 60 days to issue the report. During the review process, the NAO may consult with other NAO's, may consult with NAO Interagency Group, and may hold a hearing.