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07.02.2021

The National Cinematheque and The Systemic Violation of Labor Rights

Faced with the indifference of the Secretariat of Culture in charge of Alejandra Frausto, the columnist and editor Mariana Pérez Montes denounces the normalized labor abuses in the operation of the National Cinematheque, an institution that resorts to neoliberal strategies to not respect its worker’s rights.

In an opinion article recently published in this medium, the writer Zazil Collins denounces the labor violence exercised by the Secretariat of Culture and closes her text with a series of very pertinent questions: “Why do cultural workers suffer from decent contracts in the government sector, with legal benefits, timely payments, and recognition of employment relationship? Why do former workers find ourselves filing lawsuits after deceitful dismissals so that various Secretariats recognize and restore our labor figures? […] Why do the Secretaries of Culture refuse to acknowledge those of us who generate and execute the ideas and projects with which they rejoice in government reports? ”[1] Collins’s words are added to those of many others who have denounced the excessive delay in payments from the Secretariat of Culture of Mexico City, INBAL, and INAH or the changes in the hiring regimes that progressively diminish labor rights.

Within the framework of these questions and complaints, I write these words to disclose the systemic violation of workers’ rights under which the National Cinematheque operates, an institution of the Secretariat of Culture of the Government of Mexico in charge of preserving both the national and worldwide film memory as well as to promote film culture in Mexico. I start from a personal story because my husband worked in the “Elena Sánchez Valenzuela” Digital Restoration Laboratory as a sound restorer and was unjustifiably fired in January 2019—two days before our son was born—without severance pay and without recognition of the verifiable employment relationship of four years. His lawsuit without resolution is part of the long history of lawsuits accumulated against the National Cinematheque for unjustified dismissals, abuse of power by area coordinators, and workplace harassment. These demands, classified as the final rudeness of a disloyal employee, do not raise any conscience in management positions. Instead of reviewing their labor policies, they take each new demand as an invitation to protect themselves more, taking the situation to the absurdity in order to get away with impunity.  An example of this is the early resignation letters that, since 2019, workers are forced to sign without allowing them access to a copy or photograph of them and which free those responsible for the area and the institution from any labor damage that may be suffered during a contract. As they are not dated, they can be used when and how it is best for the National Cinematheque in case of conflict.

Due to six-year governmental policies, all workers who are not within the staff of trusted workers and/or within the union are hired as professional services. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Cinematheque managed approximately 200 workers under this regime, which does not allow the generation of seniority and exonerates the institution of all responsibility towards the worker. The annual validity of their contracts works in practice as a coercive instrument, since the threat of not being hired next year always hangs. In these contracts, the following is expressed:

“THE PARTIES” expressly acknowledge that “THE TRUST” has no employment relationship with “THE SERVICE PROVIDER”, so the latter releases “THE TRUST” from all liability related to any accident or illness that may be suffered or contracted during the development of their services or as a consequence of them; The Federal Labor Law, the Federal Law of Workers at the Service of the State Regulatory of Section “B” of Article 123 of the Constitution, the Social Security Law, the INFONAVIT Law not being applicable to the provision of the services object of this contract, nor the ISSSTE Law.

The thoroughness with which the responsibilities of the employing are exempted contrasts with the ambiguity of the recruited working conditions. There is no exclusivity clause in the document, nor are working hours or specific times established for the performance of services. The incongruity resides in the fact that, in the case of the Restoration Laboratory, for example, the workers are required to work 6 to 8 hours a day without a break, carry out entry and exit controls, assume appointments as coordinators or project leaders with more responsibility but without a salary increase, taking shifts to supervise the fumigation work on weekends, attending monthly or annual meetings and events, wearing a badge and making monthly activity reports. The latter must be written using all kinds of euphemisms to avoid the word “work” or any other word that implies a labor link with the institution or with the area.

In an act of nepotism that unfortunately is not surprising in a government body, these rules do not apply to all workers, since those who have a close relationship with managers enjoy greater flexibility in their schedules and are allowed to carry out activities outside the working schedule, using the Laboratory equipment for personal projects. The journalistic reports that have denounced these and other irregularities in the operation of the National Cinematheque are swept under the rug, making interrogations to find the culprits: those ungrateful workers who, beware, should never be called “workers.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened working conditions. Proof of this is what happened in December 2020, when the workers were forced to sign a document in which they accepted the reduction of their salary by 50%. After several journalistic reports about complaints, the institution agreed to pay full salaries, however, those who are under the professional services regime, face an uncertain employment future since to date they do not have a contract for 2021. Obviously, this does not apply to the general director and other area managers, who receive their full salaries despite the pandemic. For this reason, the professional services workers of the National Cinematheque request the clarification of the institution’s financial situation, which is headed by Vicente Fernando Cázares Avilés, director of Administration and Finance, and Alejandro Pelayo Rangel, general director. The worker’s voices are collectively raised from anonymity for fear of retaliation. Together with them, we must ensure that these types of violations of labor rights so deservedly won are not normalized since that of the National Cinematheque is not an isolated case but a situation that is repeated, with different nuances, in different government instances. It is clear that public institutions, and those who hold power in their name, will not acknowledge their violations and omissions or change their labor policies out of goodwill. It is then up to the workers, civil society, and the media to exert the necessary pressure to make this happen.

Notes

  1. Zazil Collins, “Questions Surrounding Non-Stop Workplace Violence” in Terremoto, November 29, 2020; available here.

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