In November and December 2008, about 1’000 workers at the Nokia plant in Reynosa, Mexico, were dismissed. Reportedly, at least 53 workers were put under pressure to voluntarily sign resignation letters. All workers dismissed were hired by labour agencies Manpower and Adecco. Workers, supported by the Mexican labour rights organisation Cereal, a GoodElectronics member, protested strongly about this unjust treatment. Workers directly addressed Nokia in writing and filed complaints at the Mexican labour office. In response to these allegations of unlawful dismissals, Nokia decided to conduct an investigation which concluded that the “corresponding agency had acted appropriately.” Following this disappointing conclusion, 30 workers filed a legal complaint on Thursday 5 February.
In a position statement released on January 27 Nokia explains the methodology and the outcomes of the investigation. The Mexican labour rights organisation Cereal, as well as other involved GoodElectronics members including SOMO and CAFOD, raise serious questions.
The Nokia statement describes the investigation as follows: “to independently conduct a thorough investigation in order to duly respond to such allegations”. The statement states that “all of the employees relating to the CEREAL claims were contacted”. How people were contacted is not explained , however. Further, the statement explains that “those who were available were interviewed”, but if this was a significant sample is not mentioned. The interviews were held by “an SA8000 trained person from Nokia HR together with the trade union representative”. Nokia apparently feels that an investigation into allegations of labour rights abuses at a Nokia plant can be independently conducted by a Nokia person. This view is not shared by Cereal or GoodElectronics.
The statement proceeds to state that “the outcome of the interviews was that the majority of employees of Adecco and Manpower felt that the corresponding agency had acted appropriately”. This is in stark contrast with the fact that 53 workers expressed their discontent with the acting of the agencies and the fact that tens of dismissed workers filed a complaint with the Mexican labour authorities. Nokia, however, chooses to ignore this. Cereals further maintains that the dismissed workers did not receive the severance pay they were entitled to. Also, people dismissed in November, December 2008 were promised to be taken on again in January 2009. This has not happened. Cereal as well as SOMO have now written to Nokia to try to get more insight in how Nokia has conducted the investigation and how these conclusions were reached.
Moreover, Thursday February 5, disappointed about Nokia’s statement, a group of 30 workers filed a collective legal complaint against Nokia. In an immediate response to this step, Nokia informed Cereal that since ‘this is now a matter for the courts and legal process, we are legally bound to conduct all communication through the appropriate legal channels and process.’ While cutting off direct contact with Cereal, Nokia promises to fully cooperate with the official investigations.
Where Nokia, in its January 27 statement, speaks of “the seasonality nature of the mobile device business” forcing Nokia to make “some reductions in the level of temporary workforce at the Reynosa factory”, Cereal stresses the company should behave responsible towards its most vulnerable employees during a global economic downturn.
The issue is hotly debated in the Mexican press.