The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions of their choice, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, the law places some restrictions on these rights. For instance, legal recognition of a new industry-wide union requires that the membership constitute a 50-percent-plus-one majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens.
In addition, the process for calling a strike is complex and lengthy, and by law a strike must have the support of 51 percent of a company’s workforce. The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees and workers in sectors deemed essential may address grievances by means of mediation and arbitration through the Ministry of Labor’s General Inspectorate of Labor and also directly through the labor courts.
The law prohibits employer retaliation against strikers engaged in legal strikes, but employers may suspend or fire workers for absence without leave if authorities have not recognized a strike as legal. The law calls for binding arbitration if no agreement is reached after 30 days of negotiation.
A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in that factory or business are union members and request negotiations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed illegally for union-organizing activities.
The government did not effectively enforce legislation on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. Due to a combination of inadequate allocation of budget resources and inefficient legal and administrative processes, the relevant government institutions did not effectively investigate, prosecute, and punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws or reinstate workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. Inspectors continued to fail to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors entry to facilities to investigate worker complaints, including failing to regularly seek police assistance as required. Penalties for labor law violations ranged from 50 quetzales ($6.30) to 5,000 quetzales ($630) but were inadequate and rarely enforced.
The Labor Ministry cannot impose a fine or otherwise sanction employers for labor law violations discovered during inspections but must refer these cases to the courts. Only labor courts have the authority to impose sanctions for violations of the labor law. Employers frequently refused to respect decisions favorable to workers, and courts rarely sanctioned employers for ignoring court orders. Appeals and employers’ widespread use of maneuvers, such as re-incorporation as a different entity, often prolonged reinstatement proceedings. The length of time to process cases regarding the re-instatement of workers and other labor law violations was excessive, often taking two to four years and some lasting more than 10 years. Courts also faced difficulties in providing notification of their orders when employers were listed under incorrect addresses or simply refused access to the court official delivering notification.
On March 26, the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the chairperson of the workers’ representatives of the International Labor Organization (ILO) governing body to address labor violence and develop a roadmap to raise awareness of freedom of association and collective bargaining, amend legislation to address the ILO’s recommendations, and ensure the application of labor laws, including empowering labor inspectors to fine violators. Following a high-level tripartite mission in October, the ILO noted that while the government had taken some specific actions to implement the MOU provisions regarding the investigation of the murders of trade union members, it had not substantially addressed the other areas of the MOU. The ILO called on the government to prepare a detailed roadmap to address these issues, in consultation with the social partners, with a timeline for its implementation. The government presented that road map to the ILO later in October.
Separately, on April 26, the government agreed to an enforcement plan in response to the November 2012 establishment of an arbitral panel under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) regarding the government’s apparent failure to effectively enforce its labor laws. Under the plan the government committed to take the following actions: strengthen labor inspections, expedite and streamline the process of sanctioning employers and ordering remediation of labor violations, increase labor law compliance by exporting companies, improve the monitoring and enforcement of labor court orders, publish labor law enforcement information, and establish mechanisms to ensure that workers are paid what they are owed when factories close.
The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks against union members. The unit’s small size of five (one prosecutor, three assistant prosecutors, and one administrator) limited its effectiveness. Impunity remained significantly high. According to Public Ministry statistics, the unit won no convictions. In meetings with the ILO high-level mission, CICIG indicated that threats against witnesses in criminal investigations and trials were a considerable impediment to the fight against impunity.
Although the Ministry of Interior operated a protection program that included some trade unionists, the number of unionists covered under the program and type and adequacy of the protection provided was unclear. The ministry had not finalized its process for risk analysis of threats to determine the type of protection needed. Although the government reported that it operated a hotline where union members could call and report threats, labor groups reported that the hotline did not function and calls were often misdirected or unanswered.
Procedural hurdles, union formation restrictions, and impunity for employers refusing to receive or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. The International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) annual report noted numerous and arbitrary obstacles for union registration.
On September 24, the Attorney General’s Office signed a collaboration agreement with CICIG to build the analysis and investigation capacities of the office in cases of violence against trade union officials and members. Also in September the government began to review 22 of the 58 cases of killings of trade unionists reported to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association to CICIG to analyze the investigations in those cases and, where applicable, make recommendations to the Attorney General’s Office on possible additional required investigations. In November CICIG reported that its initial review concluded 21 of the 22 homicides were not related to the victim’s labor union activities and one case showed the possibility of a link.
Violence and threats against trade unionists and worker activists remained serious problems. Several labor leaders were killed or reported death threats and other acts of intimidation. In June ITUC reported that Guatemala had become the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, citing at least 53 union leaders killed between 2007 and June and numerous acts of attempted murder and threats.
On March 8, Carlos Antonio Hernandez Mendoza, leader of the National Health Workers Union (SNTSG), was shot and killed in Camotan, Chiquimula. On June 1, the PNC and MP arrested three men (Keiron Guerra, Mario Gutierrez Sanchez and Elder de Jesus Guerra) as suspects in the killing. There was no further progress in the investigations of the March 2012 killing of Luis Ovidio Ortiz, member of the executive committee of the National Health Workers Union, or the June 2012 killing of Manuel de Jesus Ramirez, Conflict Secretary of the Workers’ Union of the Public Defenders’ Institute.
There continued to be reports that management or persons hired by management harassed and threatened workers who did not accept employer dismissals or refused to forfeit their right to reinstatement. Most acts of violence and threats were not thoroughly investigated and went unprosecuted, often making it difficult to identify motives for killings. Local unions continued to urge authorities to investigate the killings of unionists and called for increased security for union leaders and members.
Employers routinely resisted union formation attempts, delayed or only partially complied with labor agreements, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form workplace unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, and threats of factory closures. Employers threatened not to renew contracts or not to offer subcontracted workers permanent employment if the worker joined a union or refused to disaffiliate.
On June 10, Banco de los Trabajadores fired Jose Eduardo Estrada Chapeton and Santos Augusto Sija Alvarez, members of a recently organized union. This action appeared to be part of a continued campaign by the bank’s management against union workers. At year’s end the bank had not re-instated the unionized workers fired in October 2012. The fired workers claim the bank fired them in an attempt to break the union.
There were reports during the year that some companies in the growing call center industry heavily relied on subcontractor or other work arrangements to divide larger call centers into several smaller companies, making it difficult for a company to reach the 20-worker threshold needed to register a union.
Employers often failed to comply with reinstatement orders. This was often due to the inability of labor courts to enforce their court orders and legal ambiguity that allowed employers to appeal reinstatement orders without complying with them. Employers, often with impunity, failed to pay the full amount of legally required severance payments to workers or to pay court-ordered fines.
In March Minister of Health Jorge Villavicencio fired 15 union workers, who were ordered two weeks later to be re-instated. In a separate case on April 19, the Office for Property Titling (“Registro de Informacion Catastral” or RIC) fired workers whose application to form an union was pending Ministry of Labor approval. The RIC did not comply with a subsequent labor court order to re-instate the workers, and it subsequently filed charges against the workers that led to their arrest. A subsequent penal court, however, determined that the charges lacked merit and ordered the release of the workers. The workers claim the RIC’s actions were attempts at intimidation for their actions to form a union.
Local unions reported that businesses also continued to use fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such efforts.
An active “solidarity association” movement continued. Although the law stipulates that trade unions have an exclusive right to negotiate work conditions on behalf of workers, unions continued to assert that management promoted solidarity associations to discourage the formation of trade unions or to compete with existing labor unions.