The Trinational Occupational Safety and Health Working Group, a creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor side agreement in July 2002, uses technical experts from the U.S., Mexico and Canada to build cooperation and programs in occupational safety and health. But the group will not deal with real-life obstacles to effective enforcement of safety regulations in any of the three countries, charges the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network.

Garrett Brown, coordinator of the grassroots group, blasts the Working Group for holding "secret meetings" for government officials that exclude workers, the press and public and ignore a five-year campaign by Mexican workers to get the Mexican government to enforce its safety regulations in U.S.-owned and -operated auto parts plants on the U.S.-Mexican border.

The Working Group closes out all outstanding NAFTA health and safety complaints and ends any further action on them, according to Brown. It will meet every six months, but with no requirements for action, no deadlines and no proposals to identify what went wrong in the workplaces where complaints were filed.

Instead, the Working Group will focus on inspector training, handling hazardous substances, safety and health management systems, voluntary protection programs, best practices sharing, and a trinational Web site. Each country will decide how to include labor and business on a case-by-case basis.

"This Working Group is dedicated to producing tangible results, ones that will benefit us all by reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in all workplaces throughout North America," said OSHA chief John Henshaw.

But Brown charges that unsafe conditions exist in U.S.-operated border plants "not because Mexico lacks regulations or inspectors, but because there is no political will to enforce workplace safety rules."