Since 2010, Ecuador’s economic growth has been robust and government efforts have directly reduced poverty and inequality and increased the middle class. Inequality in Ecuador has decreased faster than the average for the region, with income of the poorest 40 percent of the population rising by 8.8 percent between 2000 and 2011, compared with 5.8 percent for the average total population.

Although Ecuador is the world’s top banana exporter and also exports coffee, shrimp and cocoa, growth depends mainly on oil prices, despite government attempts to diversify the economy. Not all Ecuadorans have benefited equally from oil revenues. The traditionally dominant Spanish-descended elite gained far more than indigenous peoples and those of mixed descent. Economic austerity measures and privatization generated widespread unrest in 2013, particularly among the indigenous poor, and the government has restricted free press and freedom of assembly, and delayed needed judicial reforms.

Although between 2006 and 2014 poverty in Ecuador declined from 37.6 percent to 22.5 percent, significant challenges remain in reducing poverty and inequality and in ensuring sustainable, inclusive growth. Circumstances for workers are especially difficult in the informal economy, where jobs have few safety and health protections, and are not covered by minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits.

At 1.5 percent, union membership is at an all-time low. Under attack, unions struggle to adequately represent workers, which in turn makes workers fearful and reluctant to speak out about violations of their workplace rights, especially in the public sector. The forced resignations of thousands of public-sector union activists, reclassification of workers into new job categories over the past several years and government decrees restricting the scope of collective bargaining have placed public-sector unions on the defensive with little capacity to defend themselves or their members.

Solidarity Center programs in Ecuador educate workers about detrimental labor laws and equip them to monitor labor rights compliance, negotiate with employers and advocate for their rights. The Solidarity Center is supporting new, young labor leaders who in turn, will educate new groups of workers about their rights and improve their representation in the workplace. Many of these young workers will bring their experiences in the public and private sector to undertake advocacy campaigns to prevent further backsliding in new labor policies, such as the Labor Code and the Social Security Law.

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