Although the law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, protects the right to bargain collectively and to strike, and prohibits employer retribution for engaging in trade union activity, it places a number of restrictions on these rights. For instance, the law prohibits coexistence of more than two trade unions at a single enterprise, requires 30 or more workers in order to constitute a trade union, prohibits foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requires that union officials be employed in the economic activity of the business the union represents.
The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming labor unions. The law requires that an employer begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, although public service employees are prohibited from collective bargaining. Collective bargaining agreements for private sector companies apply to union and nonunion employees.
The law prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes and requires that a two-thirds majority of the total membership of a trade union approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking before they (1) attempt and fail to come to an agreement with their employer, and (2) go through Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STSS) mediation. During the mediation companies sometimes failed to appoint a representative in order to draw out the process, thus in practice impeding the right to strike. In addition, it prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government deems essential services and any others that, in the government’s opinion, affect individuals’ rights to security, health, education, and economic or social life, including restrictions on certain public service employees from going on strike.
Workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) are allowed to strike but must continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products must submit their grievances to the STSS prior to striking. Restrictions on strikes in such a broad range of sectors were considered excessive by international standards. Workers in export processing zones and separate free zones for companies that provide services for industrial parks are permitted to strike under law. However, the law requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in the industrial parks.
The STSS has the power to declare work stoppages illegal and dismiss the protesting workers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) continued to express concerns about the government’s authority to end disputes in several sectors, including oil production and transport, because such provisions are vulnerable to abuse. It also noted with concern the law’s requirement that employees in state-owned enterprises either obtain the government’s previous authorization or give six months’ notice before striking.
The STSS can reach administrative decisions and fine companies for unfair dismissal; the law permits fines of up to 5,000 lempiras ($265) for a given violation. The ILO noted that penalties for such discrimination were inadequate and lacked credibility in the eyes of companies and municipalities. Inspectors must clear their fines through the Central Office of the General Inspectorate, which can add months to the period between an inspection and a fine being issued. Moreover, only a court can order reinstatement of workers, and the reinstatement process was unduly long.
Workers exercised the right to form and join unions and bargain collectively with difficulty, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Unions noted that the length of time the STSS took to register unions impeded their ability to unionize. Some unions also alleged that the registry office often informed companies which workers were attempting to unionize, making it easier for companies to dismiss these workers before they were granted legal protection from firing. Unions are independent of the government but closely aligned with political parties.
Civil servants occasionally engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals. Teachers continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest nonreceipt of back pay as well as proposed reforms to the public educational system, including changes to salary and pension benefits. Strikes between March 17 and April 1, which also involved anticoup protesters, were sometimes violent, and police used tear gas and water cannons in response to protesters who threw Molotov cocktails and rocks (see section 2.b.). The government engaged in a dialogue with a wide range of representatives of the education sector, including teachers’ unions, to rewrite the education law, which was more than 40 years old.
Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining with unions with impunity or made it very difficult to engage in bargaining. Some companies also delayed or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, which in practice lengthened and impeded the mediation process and right to strike. For instance, in some cases companies that agreed to bargain held meetings outside the country so that it was difficult for union members to attend.
Antiunion discrimination was a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that, in cases where fines for violations were imposed, many companies paid the fine and continued to violate the law. Employers commonly threatened to close unionized factories and harassed or dismissed workers seeking to unionize, including firing leaders soon after unions were formed to prevent the union from functioning. Failure to reinstate workers was a serious problem. Employers often ignored (with impunity) court orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activity. However, after being fined 10,000 lempira ($530) and under pressure from both the STSS and labor unions, in December the mayor of Choloma rehired 29 municipal employees whom he had fired in 2009 because of their attempt to unionize.
There was credible evidence that apparel assembly factory employers continued with impunity to blacklist employees seeking to form unions. Some companies also established employer-controlled unions, thereby preventing the formation of an independent union because of the restriction permitting only one union per company. Several companies in the country's export processing zones instituted solidarity associations that, to some extent, functioned as company unions for the purposes of setting wages and negotiating working conditions.