For its plant in Reynosa, in northern Mexico, Nokia hires its workforce through labour agencies Adecco and Manpower. It turns out that the rights of these workers are badly protected. GoodElectronics was informed of the mass dismissal of more than 1,000 workers since November 2008. Manpower and Adecco were offering less than 2,000 pesos as a severance payment to these workers. 53 of them refused to accept this pitiful amount, among whom seven pregnant women.

At the end of our shift we were taken aside to a meeting room, where we were informed that we were the chosen ones for the staff cut, so we had to sign a ‘voluntary’ resignation form. They told us ‘if you don’t sign, we are going to include you in the blacklist and nobody is going to hire you”. Nokia worker, Reynosa, Mexico.

The 53 workers concerned did not accept their dismissal, but decided to take action. On December 14, the group wrote a letter to Nokia, directly addressing CSR managers Anne Klementi and Pekka Isosomppi. The letter describes in detail how representatives of Manpower and Adecco, using rude and threatening language, made the group to sign ‘voluntary’ resignation forms, forcing them to ‘accept’ an undisclosed sum for severance pay. The workers were fired without previous notice or warning. In the letter, the workers rightly point out that Nokia is responsible for the hiring and firing of its workers, not Adecco or Manpower. Moreover, the plant’s main operator identified the 53 workers who were going to be sacked. Clearly, this way of firing workers is in flagrant violation of the Mexican labour law, as well as of Nokia’s own code of conduct. The following day, the workers held a press conference in the city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, which was covered by some local newspapers.

First of all, the workers are calling upon Nokia to be given permanent jobs. Would this not be possible, the workers have formulated the following demands, which are all in compliance with the Mexican federal labour law:

  • a fair severance pay;
  • medical coverage for the pregnant women among the group  until they go into labour (at the Mexican Social Security (IMSS) hospitals), plus another 42 days;
  • payment of maternity leave.

In response to the letter of the 53 workers and the subsequent correspondence with the Mexican labour rights organisation Cereal that is representing the workers, Nokia has issued the following statement:

“Allegations have been made that two recruitment agencies working for Nokia in Reynosa, Mexico, have been involved in illegal and improper labour practices. Nokia has launched a priority investigation to look into these serious and concerning claims in order to identify the facts.

Nokia will absolutely not condone or approve of illegal practices on its premises, and if any of these claims are found to be true we will take immediate and decisive action.

Nokia is in contact with the parties involved and is reviewing the claims and associated evidence as a matter of priority.  Nokia will also fully cooperate with any legal investigation that the proper authorities decide to make into this matter.

We cannot comment further on the details of this case until we have the results of our investigation.”

Besides Cereal, the Dutch research centre SOMO is closely following the case as well. SOMO has done extensive research into labour practices in Nokia’s supply chains.

Cereal and SOMO welcome the Nokia statement and appreciate that Nokia is taking the matter seriously. However, Cereal and SOMO are of the opinion that an internal investigation by Nokia will not suffice – better would be to put an independent third-party on the case as well. Moreover, Nokia’s emphasis on legal recourse is deemed in contradiction with Nokia’s claim to work on the basis of its own code of conduct.

Generally speaking, contract workers hired through agencies enjoy fewer rights than permanent workers. Cereal points out that there are significant differences in wage, the way workers are treated by factory supervisors and managers, as well as in the production demands made upon casual workers, compared to the situation of permanent workers.

The forced dismissal of this group of 53 workers took place in the context of massive ongoing dismissals. According to research carried out by Cereal, almost 1,000 workers of Nokia’s Reynosa plant have been dismissed in the past 6 to 8 weeks. Cereal was contacted by more than 100 people for advice. More than 70 workers have now turned to the local labour authorities with complaints.

It is not the first time Nokia is criticised for failing to uphold labour standards at its Reynosa plant. In a study carried out by Cilas (Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoria Sindical) and commissioned by SASK (Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland) it was established that "the union leaders" at Nokia's plant in Reynosa in Mexico were appointed by the company itself. Thus the principle of free organising of labour, approved by Nokia in its code of conduct, does not materialise in practice at its very own plant. On 8 April 2008, in Helsinki, Nokia admitted to the reported practices.