Guatemala: one of the terrible ten worst countries for workers’ rights
Murder, armed attacks and a lack of due process is the reality for Guatemalan unionists and their leaders. Throughout the last 12 months, leaders of the country’s various transport, municipal and market workers have been gunned down. Coca-Cola campaigned against what it called “untrustworthy” unionised workers in Guatemala, giving raises to non-members and delaying those for unionised workers. Workers who protested this treatment with an overtime ban were sacked.
Violations of the right to life and integrity: In August 2014, workers were physically assaulted and threatened by their employers within the context of a dispute over the failure to settle outstanding payments and the unfair dismissal of a number of workers at Plantaciones de Cafe el Ferrol, la Florida y Santa Elena (FEFLOSA S.A.). The General Labour Inspectorate subsequently accused the workers of trying to extort money from the company. On 7 August 2014, the workers filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. By March 2015, they had still not received any notification regarding the investigations.
On 30 September 2014, the company’s legal representative signed a document drawn up by the Labour Ministry, whereby it committed to settling the outstanding payments. At the end of October, only a portion of the amounts owed had been paid. This desperate situation led one of the workers to exercise his right “to resistance for the protection and defence of constitutional rights and guarantees”, occupying a shed on the plantation. The employer responded by refusing to pay the sums still owed to the workers as a whole and tried to forcefully remove the worker and his family. Whilst doing so, he ran over the workers’ wife, leaving her seriously injured.
Three members of the Jalapa municipal workers’ union Sindicato de Trabajadores Municipales de Jalapa were shot dead between 25 March and 8 April 2014. They had been campaigning to press the municipal authority to pay the seven months’ wages owed to them after being reinstated to their posts.
On 11 May 2014, transport union leader Luis Arnoldo Lopez Esteban, from the Sindicato de Trabajadores del Transporte en Servicio Publico de Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado (SITRASEPUCPA), in Jutiapa, was murdered. Luis was also a motorcycle-taxi driver, making him incredibly vulnerable. Two individuals requested a ride and then carried out the killing on reaching a secluded area.
Gabriel Enrique Ciramagua Ruiz, organising secretary of the Zacapa municipal workers’ union Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Municipalidad de Zacapa (SITRAMUZAC), was killed on 7 July 2014.
Joaquin Chiroy y Chiroy, founder and deputy general secretary of the market workers’ union Sindicato Gremial de Vendedores y Similares del Mercado Municipal de Solola was murdered by unknown assailants two hundred metres away from his home, at 4.30 a.m. on 28 June 2014. On 21 July, a request was made to the District Public Prosecution Service of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the department of Solola to investigate the incident. The file is currently in the hands of the Public Prosecution Service, under case number MP086-2014-1528. There have been no results from the investigation to date.
Young trade unionist murdered: the ITUC denounced the murder of young trade unionist Marlon Dagoberto Vasquez Lopez, aged just 19. Marlon was a member of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Construccion y Servicios de Guatemala (SINCSG), a student and an active member of the young trade unionists’ network in Quetzaltenango. His body was found on 6 January 2014 in the municipality of Concepcion Chiquirichapa.
The banana plantation areas in the north and south of Guatemala have been the scene of serious labour and trade union rights violations as well as attacks on the physical integrity of their workers for several years. In 2013 and 2014, Guatemala was the world’s second largest banana exporter, generating huge profits for the companies in the sector. The workers, however, earn around US$ 12.9 for a 12 hour working day, without health or social security coverage. It has proved impossible to form trade union organisations in the southern region owing to the violence and the threats received. In the north, the workers formed SITRABI. This union has managed to survive in spite of the violence suffered by its members and families and the companies’ constant violations of collective bargaining rights.
Coca Cola suspends unionised workers: Coca Cola launched a strong media campaign to discredit the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Alimentos y Bebidas Atlántida S.A. (SITRAABASA), announcing that there are two groups of workers at the company, those who, regardless of their post, are considered “trustworthy” and those that are union members. The company gave pay rises to the former while the unionised workers are being made to wait until the collective agreement is signed. In response to this discrimination, a number of workers decided to refuse to do overtime. The company retaliated by suspending them from their posts on 24 April.
Unions from around the world, including the TUC, continue to support Guatemala’s workers in any way they can. The ITUC’s ranking is a harsh reminder that it may be a long fight before they can enjoy proper rights in peace.
The Terrible Ten:
At the ILO conference earlier this month, the International Trade Union Confederation launched its 2015 Global Rights Index, detailing the ten worst countries for workers’ rights abuses in the world, and reporting in detail violations in those and many more. Stronger Unions is profiling one of the terrible ten each day.