Complaint calls for Guatemalan government to protect workers’ rights and act promptly to end violence against union workers
Today, the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade & Labor Affairs alleging violations of the labor chapter of DR-CAFTA. The complaint is the first of its kind under the labor provisions of DR-CAFTA. It lays out five separate cases where the Guatemalan government failed to effectively enforce its own labor laws and has fallen short of its commitment to respect international workers’ rights.
The complaint demands that the Bush Administration formally initiate dispute settlement proceedings and require the government of Guatemala to take all measures necessary to assure that trade unionists in Guatemala can exercise their rights to freedom of association without intimidation, threats of violence, illegal dismissals by employers, or targeted assassination. The petition calls on the U.S. government to closely monitor the implementation of all remedies.
The Guatemalan government made several promises, prior to the ratification vote by the U.S. Congress, to substantially improve the administration of labor justice in the country, according to the AFL-CIO’s complaint. Yet these changes never materialized, and the United States has applied little visible pressure on the country to comply with the labor provisions of the trade agreement. The government has yet to conduct a serious investigation into a number of murders, attempted murders and rapes directed at union workers and their families, according to the complaint. No one has yet been arrested in the two murders and numerous threats described by the petition.
“This petition will demonstrate that… labor conditions in [Guatemala] have remained unchanged or have worsened since the trade agreement was ratified. The level of physical violence against trade unionists increased markedly since the agreement entered into force in July, 2006. Violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining continue apace, and access to fair and efficient administrative or judicial tribunals remains elusive,” charges the complaint.
“Guatemalan workers are being targeted for their union activity,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Without the freedom from fear to join unions and bargain collectively, how can we expect any workers to benefit from a trade agreement?”
Sweeney called on the Bush Administration to demand that Guatemala enforce its domestic laws and meet its international obligations to protect workers who speak out for their economic rights.
In 2008 alone, four union leaders and/or their family members have been murdered in Guatemala, and many others have been victims of attempted murder and/or have received death threats. Workers who attempt to form or join a union, bargain collectively or conduct a strike are still routinely fired. According to the complaint, the Ministry of Labor does little to undertake serious investigations of workers’ claims and labor courts infrequently punish those employers who violate the law.