By Jose Luis Gonzalez
CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of workers lined up before dawn to return to work at automotive factories along Mexico’s northern border on Monday, the first day that industries joined the country’s list of essential activities beginning to reopen.
At car parts company Flex Ltd <FLEX.O>, staffers checked the temperatures of several hundred workers, allowing them one by one to enter its Ciudad Juarez plant that supplies Ford Motor Co <F.N> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. <FCHA.MI>.
A banner declared: “Welcome! We’ve been working during this quarantine to give you a safe and clean plant.”
Ciudad Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada estimated that 30% of the city’s factory workforce of 300,000 people had returned to their posts, in line with state guidelines to gradually ramp up production.
It was not clear how many workers clocked in across various industrial clusters.
Cabada urged residents to maintain health measures because of a still high infection rate, while noting the need to jump-start the economy of one of Mexico’s main factory hubs supplying foreign automakers.
“There are many examples of desperation … of people with nothing to eat,” Cabada said.
Labor advocates questioned whether the reboot was safe despite new measures, such as at Lear Corp <LEA.N>, which saw 20 employees killed by the coronavirus.
“We’re not sure companies are going to take all their precautions,” said Julia Quinonez, coordinator of the Workers’ Border Committee.
Mexico’s government, which has tallied 10,167 deaths from the coronavirus, allowed automotive, aerospace, construction and mining companies to reopen on Monday. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador traveled to Quintana Roo state to launch construction of a tourist train.
Rene Espinosa, president of Chihuahua state’s Aerospace Cluster, acknowledged that the coronavirus may still hit workers.
“We know it might happen, but we’ll be able to catch them with the filters and protocols we have,” he said.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Peter Cooney)