CNA Seeks to Change Labor Law for MinorsBy Jan Hogewoning | Tue, 07/07/2020 - 15:11
During a virtual forum titled ‘Hemisferico Agroempresaria’ last Friday, Bosco de la Vega, president of the National Agriculture Council (CNA) indicated that the organization is seeking to lower the legal age for employment, in agriculture, to 15 years. The event, organized by the Institute for Interamerican Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), brought together current and ex-Agriculture officials and industry representatives from different countries in the Americas. The age for legal employment has gained attention due to the implementation of USMCA, which took effect last week, and opens up a window for sanctions against companies or specific worksites where underage labor is found to exist. The treaty allows any country to request a panel to review any breach in the labor commitments established in the treaty. Amongst the breaches in labor commitments are mentioned child labor and forced labor. This, Bosco de la Vega himself has signaled, could be one way in which American parties could harm the Mexican agricultural sector. At the forum, he stated that CNA is working together with government entities to see if modifications in the law could happen. He warned that the Mexican government must act to facilitate changes in laws and regulation to ensure that the Mexican agrosector can benefit from the USMCA treaty, and not face adverse conditions.
Currently, the Federal Labor Law stipulates very clear rules on who is allowed to work under the age of 18, the age of majority in Mexico. The law permits for minors above the age of 15 to work. However, between the age of 15 and 16, according to article 22, individuals need permission from their legal guardians and they cannot be involved in any work which may pose physical risks. Under the age of 18, minors are not allowed to work at all if they have not completed obligatory basic education, with the exception where the corresponding labor authority determines compatibility between the individual’s work and school studies. In addition, article 174, requires that all minors who are eligible to work, receive a medical certificate that accredits their aptitude for work. Given these conditions, it is likely that Bosco de la Vega was not referring to allowing work as a whole under the age of 18, which is already legal, but a change in the requirements that come with working underage, so as to ensure that less entities are currently possibly breaking the law.
The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to adressing hunger and poverty, cites that there are around 3.6 million children in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 17 that are employed. Of these, nearly 870,000 are under the age of 13. It also states that “while the Department of Labor is responsible for protecting workers’ rights, including monitoring child labor…the enforcement of child labor laws is minimal and ineffective in smaller companies, agricultural work and construction. Yet, it is in these areas that the majority of child labor in Mexico takes place.” There are a large number of children working in Mexico, many of them with no right to do so at all. This includes the case with minors between the age of 15 and 18 who have not completed their basic education. In addition, minors between the age of 15 and 18 who do have the legal requirements, may not have official authorization from the relevant authority because their place of work operates in the informal sphere.