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Bureau of International Labor Affairs

ILAB Press Release: Labor Secretary Herman Requests Consultation with Mexican Counterpart on NAFTA Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint [01/12/1998]

For more information call: (202) 219-6373

Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman has requested consultation with her Mexican counterpart, Javier Bonilla, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, on a complaint filed under the NAFTA labor side agreement, which alleges pregnancy discrimination in employment in Mexico's maquiladora sector along the U.S. border.

The Labor Department's National Administrative Office (NAO), which is responsible for implementing the labor side agreement, today recommended that Herman engage her Mexican counterpart in ministerial consultations on gender discrimination in employment in Mexico. The recommendations are included in the NAO's report on the review of allegations of job discrimination against pregnant women in Mexico's maquiladora sector.

Three human rights groups -- Human Rights Watch, the International Labor Rights Fund and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers of Mexico -- filed the complaint with the NAO under provisions of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the labor side agreement to NAFTA. The complaint included allegations that: Maquiladora employers require pregnancy tests for female job applicants; some employers mistreat or discharge pregnant employees; Mexico does not enforce its own laws or provide access to labor law tribunals or recourse to other protections.

Upon accepting the report, Herman said, "This is a serious issue, and we need to consult with Mexico as to implementation of its employment discrimination laws. At the same time, I am most gratified that this subject is on the table, open to public scrutiny and review. This is exactly the kind of consideration that was intended in adoption of the NAFTA labor side agreement. The process is working and working well."

The NAO review included staff analysis of Mexican law and international conventions, discussions with Mexican government officials, review of materials submitted by interested parties and a public hearing held in Brownsville, Texas. Among others, female workers from Mexican maquiladora plants testified at that hearing.

The NAO found that the Mexican constitution and federal labor law prohibit gender discrimination. Nevertheless, pre-employment pregnancy screening is practiced in the maquiladora sector and the Mexican government is aware of this. However, there are differing opinions within Mexico on the legality of such testing. The NAO also found that post-hire pregnancy discrimination in employment occurs; that it violates Mexican law; and that additional efforts should be directed toward awareness programs for women workers on the protection they are afforded by law and the means by which they may seek relief.

The complainants charged that the reasons for such discrimination are economic. Mexican law guarantees financial and medical support for pregnant workers and employers also are required to provide maternity benefits. Specifically, the human rights groups alleged that Mexico violated the NAALC by not effectively enforcing its domestic labor laws and by not affording access to Conciliation and Arbitration Boards, which are the tribunals that enforce labor law and provide recourse to protection for workers. In addition, the complainants contend that Mexico violated both the spirit and the letter of the NAALC and of international law, including ILO Convention 111 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Annex 1 of the NAALC commits the NAFTA signatory countries to elimination of employment discrimination based on race, religion, age, sex and other grounds.

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.

Bureau of International Labor Affairs
January 12, 1998
Media Contact: David Roberts
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