In Guatemala, the Solidarity Center works to end discrimination on the job, help women, indigenous workers and those working in the informal economy become strong union leaders, end impunity for violence against union activists and push for strong labor laws.

A 36-year civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996 has left a legacy of violence, corruption and lawlessness that still permeates every level of society and governance. Guatemala in 2018 was  one of the 10 worst countries in the world to be a worker, with “no guarantee of rights,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation.

Although Guatemala, as a member of the International Labor Organization, has committed to upholding and respecting freedom of association, union activists are illegally fired, threatened, attacked and murdered, while the perpetrators of the crimes go unpunished.

In addition, unions are weakened by labor laws that restrict union membership and the right to strike and a judicial system that systematically refuses to hold employers accountable for violations. The Ministry of Labor approved only six collective bargaining agreements in 2016.

At work, women are paid less than their male counterparts and often are harassed and sexually assaulted. The Solidarity Center works to tackle this issue by bringing together diverse unions from across job sectors and union confederations, training and helping empower grassroots workers while cultivating labor leaders’ support for addressing gender-based violence and harassment.

Key partners in Solidarity Center’s gender equality programs include the banana workers’ union, SITRABI, which is part of the Latin American Coordinating Body of Banana and Agriculture Unions (COLSIBA); maquila workers through the CGTG confederation; and the domestic workers’ union SITRADOMSA, all of which are spearheading programs to end gender-based violence at work.

Nearly 60 percent of Guatemalans are impoverished. Employers perpetuate poverty by deducting social security from workers’ wages without paying into the national pension system, and when workers reach retirement age they find they have no retirement income. Indigenous, rural, migrant and domestic workers also are mistreated, and the government ignores widespread violations of child labor laws.

With few jobs available in the formal sector, workers have turned to the informal economy, and Guatemala has one of the world’s highest rates of informal employment. Supporting themselves and their families as street vendors or in other precarious jobs, informal economy workers make low wages and have no job safety.

The Solidarity Center works with national and local union bodies and rights activists to educate workers on their basic rights and help workers improve their wages and working conditions through unions. Our union allies in the agriculture, apparel and public sectors are developing the leadership capacity of traditionally marginalized workers, including women, youth, indigenous and informal economy workers. We also work to develop public policy platforms that bring together all segments of Guatemala’s union movement to advocate reforms that benefit all workers.