Every day, Guatemalan workers and trade unionists face harassment, abuse, intimidation and violence. Their rights are disrespected, and over the past five years, more than 50 Guatemalan trade unionists have been killed in acts of violence.
The AFL-CIO and Guatemalan labor unions first filed a labor complaint under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2008. In the nearly five years since the complaint was filed, the situation for workers has not improved. They still struggle to organize their workplaces without retribution, they still fight to receive the pay promised for work performed and they continue to be targeted with violence, including murder, for standing up for the most basic of internationally recognized labor rights. The International Trade Union Confederation reports that 10 unionists were murdered there in 2011—the most recent year for which statistics are available. It is long past time for the government of Guatemala to change or for the U.S. government to proceed to arbitrate the case. Justice delayed is justice denied—and for far too long, justice has been denied for Guatemala's workers.
When Emeterio Nach suffered a shoulder injury at his job, he asked his supervisor at the Ternium aluminum processing plant in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, for time off to see his doctor. After the supervisor denied his request, Nach asked again. The supervisor continued to refuse, finally telling Nach he would be fired if he kept asking—and if he were sick, he'd be fired as well because the factory needed healthy workers.
The 2012 ILO Annual Conference is under way in Geneva, Switzerland, and representatives of employers have blocked discussion of some of the worst cases of workers' rights violations. The conference usually brings up the most serious cases from the annual report of the ILO’s Committee of Experts, a 17-member committee of eminent international jurists and legal scholars. But this year, the Employers Group has used procedural maneuvers to block discussion of any cases.
Guatemalan workers received support from an unexpected quarter this week. A group of global clothing brands (including the Gap, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Under Armour, American Eagle, Adidas, PVH and PF) and an association to which they are affiliated with, the Fair Labor Association, wrote to the Government of Guatemala to urge it to move swiftly to reach a satisfactory resolution to a complaint filed four years ago by the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions under DR-CAFTA (the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement).
Seven current or former members of the Guatemalan banana workers’ union have been murdered since 2011. Most recently, Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers’ union, was shot while he was holding his young son.
The ambassadors of El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic joined Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis today to sign a historic partnership to protect the labor rights of migrant workers from these countries who are employed in the United States.
The Obama administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Guatemala to enforce its labor laws. Yesterday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced it was moving forward with arbitration against Guatemala for violating fundamental labor rights under the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).