June 18, 2012—Guatemala is among the worst violators of worker rights in the world today, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Workers are routinely fired for asserting their rights at work, and increasingly, they are threatened, tortured, or murdered.
When workers attempt to vindicate their rights through resort to the ministry of labor or the courts, these institutions rarely provide an effective remedy. Even when courts sanction employers, the orders are ignored and courts do little to enforce them. Entire sectors of the economy are nearly union-free, and trade union density today hovers around a mere 2 percent as a result of decades of repression.
For more than 20 years, Guatemalan workers have attempted to use the International Labor Organization (ILO) to vindicate the rights that were elusive at home. Despite increasingly stronger condemnations by the ILO, and numerous technical missions, Guatemalan workers saw no changes in law or in practice. In 2012, workers had had enough. On June 14, 2012, ten worker delegates to the International Labor Conference, from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, filed a request for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry—the strongest investigative measure available under the ILO system. The Governing Body of the ILO will likely vote on the establishment of such a commission in November.
“The situation in Guatemala is truly alarming, with trade unionists routinely murdered,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC. “The government rarely employs preventative measures to safeguard trade unionists at risk or carries out competent investigations or prosecutions of those material or intellectual authors of these crimes. Guatemala is about to assume the mantle from Colombia as the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. The murder of 63 trade unionists since 2007 is evidence of the grisly reality many workers face today.”
“We urge governments and employers to support the establishment of a commission of inquiry as soon as possible,” siad Victor Baez, general secretary of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas–TUCA. “The careful review of the obstacles to the exercise of freedom of association with recommendations, combined with the intense international spotlight and technical support that come with such a commission, could make an important difference. All benefit from social dialogue and decent work, which are the fundamentals of an economy that generated broadly shared prosperity. A commission could help Guatemala begin its journey down that path. Without it, however, the future for Guatemala looks increasingly bleak, with continued exploitation, inequality, and violence remaining the norm.
Cross-posted from ITUC Online, June 15, 2012