MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate on Tuesday approved a wide-reaching but watered down labour reform bill in the biggest shake-up of the country's job market in more than four decades.
The bill's approval came after a protracted tussle between outgoing President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) and pro-union hardliners within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto. The PRI has traditionally relied on union support.
"We shouldn't underestimate what we have," said PAN senator Javier Lozano. "It is a very good labour reform economically speaking which will really stimulate competitiveness and productivity, and will modernize labour relations."
Nonetheless, the bill, approved by 99 votes to 28, has been criticized by some leftist politicians who accused the government of trampling on the country's workers.
"What we're doing here is annulling worker's rights," said Alejandra Barrales, a senator from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
The bill, which the government said will create up to 400,000 jobs a year, contains a raft of measures, including changes that would make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers and shorten labour disputes. However, parts of the bill that sought to make unions more transparent were cut back.
Pena Nieto sent a tweet congratulating Congress on the passage of the bill, which he said would "improve the productivity and competitiveness" of Mexico.
Under the new measures, work contracts will be more flexible, enshrining trial periods and initial training contracts in labour laws. Regulations will also be tightened on outsourcing of personnel, while the minimum wage will rise from an hourly to a daily rate.
The reform also strengthens the rights of working women, including outlawing gender-based discrimination and helping mothers plan their work schedules.
UNIONS LESS AFFECTED
Unions will have to publish their regulatory statutes on the Ministry of Labor's website, but many of the tougher measures against them - including rules to force them to show how they manage members' fees - were dropped.
Reformers have been trying for years to bring Mexico's antiquated labour laws up to date and received a boost in September when Calderon tried to fast-track the legislation through Congress.
But before the bill left the lower house, where the PRI can muster a slim majority with the help of allies including the union-backed New Alliance Party, Pena Nieto's party stripped some of the less union-friendly measures.
Nonetheless, the PRI lacks a majority in the Senate where the PAN, alongside allies from other parties, was able to push its reform through after it ping-ponged between the houses.
Analysts said the reform, which relied on cross-party support between the PAN and the PRI, could herald a new era of bilateral cooperation, but that politicians missed an opportunity to push through a more wide-ranging bill.
"It should have been stronger," said Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico's UNAM university. "In Mexico we're prone to making half-hearted decisions."
(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Christopher Wilson)