Fears of Border Violence Slow Recovery of Maquiladora Industry

Fears of Border Violence Slow Recovery of Maquiladora Industry

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Employment in Ciudad Juarez’s bedrock maquiladora industry is recovering at a much slower pace than elsewhere in Mexico. Of 164,590 new jobs created in the assembly-for-export industry during 2010, only 10,271 were located in Ciudad Juarez.

The National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics (INEGI) reported that while the Mexican maquiladora industry grew at an annual rate of 10 percent last year, the comparable figure for Ciudad Juarez was only 6.1 percent.

According to INEGI, the total number of workers employed in Ciudad Juarez’s export-oriented factories increased from 168,011 to 178,282 in 2010. Citing varied sources, an earlier story in the El Paso Times reported maquila employment in its sister city hovered somewhere between 192,735 workers and about 200,000 workers by the beginning of last fall.

In any event, the current number of maquila workers in Ciudad Juarez is sharply down from the almost 250,000 workers employed in the sector at the end of 2007. An estimated 75 to 85 percent of Ciudad Juarez’s maquila industry is tied to the automotive or electronics sectors.

Quoted in a report by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, an earlier prediction that Ciudad Juarez’s export-oriented factories would add 40,000 jobs in 2010 simply did not hold water.

It remains to be seen to what degree a combination of municipal, state and federal investment in public works construction projects expected to total nearly $500 million in 2011, a pre-election year, will offset some of the effects of joblessness in Ciudad Juarez.

Industry insiders offer different interpretations of the sluggish industrial rebound in Ciudad Juarez. Guillermo Gutierrez Morquecho, director of the Ciudad Juarez Maquiladora Association, said
labor-intensive jobs in the textile and other sectors were increasingly locating production in other parts of Mexico, while the latest round of manufacturing that’s emerging in Ciudad Juarez tends to employ more technology and require less human hands than in the past.

On the upside, many of the new jobs demand greater technical skills and pay better salaries, Gutierrez said. The maquila industry leader discounted Ciudad Juarez’s horrific security situation as a factor in keeping new investment-and jobs-at bay.

But Erika Donjuan Callejo, director of the private Economic Advisors and Marketing company, said the raging violence in Ciudad Juarez had led some companies to shy away from the border city.

Meanwhile, workers who have managed to hold on to their jobs during the Great Recession report difficult conditions, according to a local worker advocate.

Elizabeth Avalos of the CETLAC labor advocacy organization told the Canada-based Maquila Solidarity Update newsletter that short-term contracts and temporary employment agencies have become the norm during the last three years. Further, job applicants are forced to undergo police
background checks and frequently discriminated against based upon their physical appearance, Avalos said.

“We are all viewed and treated as criminals, and this has clearly affected the world of work,” Avalos was quoted.

The conditions outlined by Avalos are currently illustrated in a drama underway at one Ciudad Juarez plant.

Last week, a group of workers seized a factory owned by the Sky Bridge company in the Fuentes Industrial Park. The workers occupied the property after Sky Bridge reportedly shut down production and began moving machinery. Such plant take-overs are fairly common in Mexico, where employees sometimes occupy a factory to block equipment from being removed as long as the workers are still owed back wages and severance payments guaranteed by Mexican law.

Amelia Lozoya, a spokesperson for a group of Sky Bridge workers, said employees had been working under unstable conditions and even without pay at times during the last three years. Although some workers counted 20 years on the job, Sky Bridge offered a severance payment of less than $200, Lozoya said.

“We have children, a family to feed,” Lozoya said. “We have a lot of expenses.”

Sky Bridge workers were expected to meet with the federal Labor and Conciliation Board to discuss their grievances this week.

Sources: Arrobajuarez, March 20, 2011. Lapolaka.com, March 19, 2011. El Diario de Juarez, March 18, 2011. Maquila Solidarity Update, March 2011. El Paso Times, October 3, 2010. Article by Vic Kolenc. Dallasfed.org. Maquilaportal.com