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AFL-CIO, Guatemalan Trade Unions Call for Reinstitution of Arbitral Panel After Flawed “Enforcement Plan” Failed to Protect Basic Workers’ Rights

Over 50 Guatemalan trade unionists killed, five years after the U.S. and Guatemalan trade unions filed a CAFTA petition

(Washington, DC, October 22) – Recognizing the failure of the “Enforcement Plan” to protect the fundamental workers’ rights of Guatemalan workers under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the AFL-CIO and the largest Guatemalan trade unions sent a letter today to the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Trade Representative, and to the Guatemalan Ministers of Labor and Economy calling for reinstitution of the arbitral panel. The “Enforcement Plan” was signed by both governments on April 26, 2013.

More than five years after the U.S. and Guatemalan trade unions filed the CAFTA petition, 50 Guatemalan trade unionists have been killed, and thousands of workers continue to be harassed, abused, and denied basic workplace protections.  Using the Enforcement Plan, the Government of Guatemala has further delayed arbitration and the possibility of justice for workers.  This plan has not given workers reason to hope that their rights will be protected and respected, or that the violations will be remedied. 

“This plan has made advances on paper, such as the creation of a Rapid Response Team to rein in the worst employers, yet the team has taken no real actions to defend workers. The U.S. government must insist on concrete actions, not just new bureaucracies,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “If the U.S. government is serious about defending labor rights in its trade agreements, and the government of Guatemala continues to fail in these and other areas detailed in our joint statement, the U.S. government must call to restart the arbitration process.”

In the letter, trade union leaders from both nations write that persistent and systemic violations of fundamental labor rights continue while the Government of Guatemala has failed to provide thorough oversight, effective remedial mechanisms and appropriate sanctions. In both the public and private sectors, Guatemalan workers still face serious barriers to exercising basic labor rights, including ongoing harassment and intimidation, as well as retaliation through firing and other abuses.

“The U.S. government must also insist that Guatemala consult with workers. The government submitted labor law reforms to Congress with no prior consultation and named officials to implement an inter-agency process with no review by the labor movement. Both measures were required by the plan, yet workers were excluded from the process,” said Carlos Luch, STECSA General Secretary; affiliated to FESTRAS.

Carlos Mancilla, the general secretary of CUSG, agreed: “The U.S. government should recognize the Enforcement Plan's failure to hold Guatemala to previous commitments to empower the Ministry of Labor to impose fines and other penalties when violations are found. As conceived, the Plan forces workers to seek justice in costly and slow legal processes.”

The labor unions called for a return to the Arbitral Panel, which was first established by the United States in August 2011 as a result of the Government of Guatemala’s consistent failure to effectively enforce its labor laws under CAFTA.  The two governments suspended the Arbitral Panel when they began negotiating the “Enforcement Plan,” but the plan did not include proposals made by the Guatemalan trade unions and was fundamentally misconceived.

By delaying the Panel, the Plan has given the Government of Guatemala another opportunity to deny justice for Guatemalan workers.  To rectify the situation, the letter recommends the governments use the Panel to engage in a tri-partite dialogue and consultation to address noncompliance with the labor chapter of CAFTA and the ongoing issues of violence against trade unionists. 

Contact: Gonzalo Salvador (202) 637-5018

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