From the TUC

Guatemala Week of Action

21 May 2013, By

Recent months have seen a flurry of agreements and undertakings being signed relating to Guatemala.

Whilst the attention of trade unionists around the world has rightly been focused on Colombia due to the unbelievable level of violent attacks our colleagues there are subject to, as I have written before, the situation in Guatemala is also of huge concern and needs our urgent attention.

More than 56 trade unionists have been murdered in the last three years alone and the assassinations are occurring within a culture of almost complete impunity for the killers.  Trade unionists in Guatemala and internationally have been attempting to use all means to available to highlight this situation.

US and Guatemalan unions have filed a complaint under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA )which has resulted in the signing of the les than succinctly titled ‘Mutually Agreed Enforcement Action Plan between the Government of the United States and the Government of Guatemala –Enforcement plan’. Whilst at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva the tabling by the workers group of a request  for a full commission of inquiry into the continued and flagrant breaches of  ILO core conventions in Guatemala has lead to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Guatemalan labour minister and the chair of the workers group.

The MOU sets out three areas in which we need to see concrete progress before the October meeting of the ILO’s governing body if we are to accept the governments verbal commitments on workers’ rights and agree not to proceed with the commission at this stage.

The government has committed to;

  • Support the ILO in establishing a permanent high-level tripartite presence in the country to facilitate the development of ‘mature forms of industrial relations’ and the ensure the effective rule of law in regard to the core labour standards and  most crucially freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Institute immediate independent and judicial investigations into the deaths of trade union leaders and activists to identify and bring to justice those responsible for the murders and attacks
  • Consult fully with trade unions and take concrete measures to guarantee the safety of leaders and activists so that trade unionists can operate in all sectors across the whole country.

This week as part of a coordinated International Trade Union Confederation mobilisation in support of our colleagues in Guatemala, the TUC has been acting to ensure that these commitments are publicised and the consequences of failing to meet them made clear to the Guatemalan authorities.

Frances O’Grady has written a letter to President Molina noting the sentencing of former dictator Rios Montt to 80 years for on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the civil war, but highlighting our concern that the government has only recognised 2 out of 58 most recent murders of trade unionists as being due to their trade union activities. This claim by the government that the crimes are based ‘personal differences’, ‘crimes of passion’ or due to criminal involvement comes despite their admission that they have yet to actually investigate most of them and is strikingly similar to the statements issued by the Colombian government when it seeks to downplay the level of anti-union violence.

In a meeting with British Foreign Office officials on Monday, TUC and GMB officials called for increased British support to end the culture of impunity surrounding the killings, European Union support for the enforcement of ILO standards and the close supervision by EU diplomats of the provisions for protection that should be put in place.

The British ambassador in Guatemala City has a good track record of meeting with trade unionists on the ground, but it is vital that the Guatemalan government remains are aware of the close interest we are taking in the situation there.

In addition in this lobbying work the TUC is supporting organising campaigns at ground level and this week we received the first report on the successful start of an organising and training project being carried out by the SITRABI banana workers union. The project is funded by the TUC and Unite with the support of Banana Link and is training new organisers and supporting the development of national collective bargaining in the Banana industry.

The headline agreements referred to above and the discussions that will occur next month during the ILO conference may prove useful to create the space unions need to organise, but the next 8 months will show whether they are worth the paper they are written on in respect to stopping the killings and attacks and only increased support for unions on the ground will enable them to take advantage of any improvements in the legal framework for organising and building union strength.