Guatemalan Unionists: No Meaningful Progress for Worker Rights

Guatemala.May Day 2013 3.SW

Thousands of Guatemalans turned out on May Day this year to protest violence against union members and demand worker rights. Credit: Stephen Wishart

Guatemalan trade union leaders met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in Guatemala City today to express their frustration with the failure of the Guatemalan government to make any meaningful progress in protecting worker rights.

The meeting took place as Guatemala neared the deadline for complying with a “Labor Action Plan” it signed with the United States in April 2013. The United States granted Guatemala a four-month extension earlier this year. Guatemalan unions and the AFL-CIO first raised concerns about egregious labor rights violations in Guatemala in a joint complaint filed in 2008 under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

The union leaders told Froman that the government has failed to improve worker rights since the complaint was filed six years ago and in fact, the situation for workers in Guatemala has deteriorated in recent years.

Seventy-two unionists have been murdered in Guatemala since CAFTA was implemented.

“One of the main challenges in achieving labor justice in Guatemala are the high levels of impunity and lack of accountability of those public officials responsible for ensuring respect for labor rights,” said Victoriano Zacarias, deputy general secretary of the Confederacion Central de Trabajadores de Guatemala (Central Confederation of Guatemalan Workers, CGTG).

“Moreover, the bills before Congress on labor issues in Guatemala, if approved, will result only in more labor rights violations and further facilitate greater migration to the U.S. for lack of basic conditions of labor rights.” Zacarias was among union leaders taking part in today’s meeting.

Another participant in the meeting, Carlos Mancilla, general secretary of theConfederacion Unitaria Sindical de Guatemala (United Trade Union Confederation of Guatemala, CUSG), said “the government of Guatemala has no political will to solve the existing labor problems.”

“The government of Guatemala has stated it has made advances, but the only progress has been creating roundtable discussions that have not provided solutions to labor problems, and the establishment of agreements and protocols that are not implemented.”

“This year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the most dangerous place in the world to be a union leader,” said Solidarity Center Country Program Director Stephen Wishart, who attended the meeting. “So we’re pleased to see that Ambassador Froman is taking the issue of worker rights seriously and meeting with the unions to hear their side.”

Wishart said that Guatemalan unions will continue to press their government to live up to its labor rights commitments, and added, “The Solidarity Center will stand with our union partners in Guatemala as they keep up their fight for worker rights, safety and decent jobs for Guatemalan workers.”