Complaint filed with Mexican government is a reminder that trade deal’s labor safeguards apply to the United States, too, experts say
By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, March 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of Mexican women migrants has filed a complaint accusing the U.S. government of violating a trade agreement by failing to enforce gender discrimination laws in temporary labor programs, an activist group said Tuesday.
In a petition lodged with the Mexican government, the workers said women were being channeled into lower-paying jobs or excluded altogether from the H-2 visa program, which is for temporary seasonal workers in agriculture and other industries.
Women also often face sexual harassment in the workplace on H-2 visas in the United States and have limited options to take action over it, the signatories added, saying such failings breached the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
"The U.S. has allowed ongoing sex discrimination and gender-based violence against migrant worker women in the guest-worker program," said Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of the Center for Migrant Rights, which signed the complaint.
The USMCA trade deal, which came into force last year, contains a chapter dedicated to labor issues, and members of the public can submit complaints against any of the governments.
Mexico's Labor Ministry, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, will now consider whether to investigate the women's complaint and take it to the U.S. government.
The U.S. Department of Labor also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
So far, labor conditions in Mexico have been the focus of discussions around USMCA, with U.S. unions saying they plan to file complaints relating to illegal working conditions south of the border creating unfair competition.
But experts said the Mexican women's complaint was a reminder that the USMCA's labor chapter applied to all three countries.
"It's not just aimed at Mexico," said Lance Compa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations and a panel member on USMCA's Rapid Response Mechanism for labor complaints.
"This complaint will test the new, stronger language on migrant workers ... and on discrimination against women."
Adareli Ponce, 39, worked in the crawfish and chocolate industries on a H-2B visa, despite being qualified and willing to work in the H-2A program for agriculture jobs that are often better-paid and include housing, the filing said.
"If women had more work opportunities, we would face less abuse and harassment," she said in the document.
Maritza Perez, 30, said in the complaint that she had faced sexual violence while on a H-2A visa picking peppers, squash and cucumber in Florida, and had been punished for refusing to have sex with her employer.
"I know of multiple similar cases where workers face discrimination because they are women," Perez said in separate testimony seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I don't want people like my former employer to be able to continue hiring people and turning the American dream into a nightmare," she added in the filing.
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(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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