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U.S. Steps Up Pressure on Guatemala to Enforce Labor Laws

The Obama administration announced yesterday that because Guatemala has not  taken sufficient  steps to effectively enforce its labor laws, as required under the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), it is requesting a meeting of the Free Trade Commission.

The meeting would be the second step in the process outlined under the DR-CAFTA, to compel a nation to enforce its labor obligations under the agreement. In July, the U.S. requested consultations with Guatemala. But as U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk says:

We have identified a significant number of apparent failures by the government of Guatemala to enforce its labor laws. While Guatemala has taken some positive steps over the past several months, its actions and proposals have been insufficient to address what we view as systemic failures.

Kirk says Guatemala has failed to enforce labor laws regarding the right of association, the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and acceptable working conditions.

In 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions filed a complaint with the Labor Department outlining the systemic failure of the government of Guatemala to enforce its own labor laws or to take reasonable action to prevent violence against trade unionists.

In 2009, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) named Guatemala the second most dangerous country for trade unionists. Colombia was first.

A 2009 report by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center noted that in addition to the brutal repression of workers’ freedoms, Guatemala’s laws hinder workers from exercising their basic rights in many ways. Some laws criminalize legitimate union activity. Efforts to strengthen labor laws have been rolled back in recent years. Click here to read the report.

Last year, when the Obama administration took its first action against Guatemala, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

If consultations fail, however, we call upon our government to prosecute this case vigorously through the dispute settlement process.
If workers cannot exercise their rights under the law without fear of violence, labor law enforcement means little, and trade agreements cannot deliver the promised widely shared benefits.

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