The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, to bargain collectively, and to strike, and it prohibits employer retribution for engaging in trade union activity, but it places a number of restrictions on these rights. For instance, the law requires 30 or more workers 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, as well as certain other public service employees, from forming labor unions.
The law requires that an employer begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union but specifies that if more than one union exists, the employer must negotiate with the largest union at a company.
The law prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes and requires that a two-thirds majority of the total workforce approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to an agreement with their employer, and it requires workers to undergo a mediation and conciliation process. In addition the law 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.
The law prohibits certain public-service employees from striking. The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike, but they must continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the STSS prior to striking. The International Labor Organization considered excessive the restrictions on strikes in such a broad range of sectors. The law permits striking by workers in export-processing zones and separate free zones for companies that provide services for industrial parks, but it 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 employers may apply disciplinary sanctions or other actions in accordance with their internal regulations, including dismissing protesting workers, if the STSS finds a strike to be illegal. The International Labor Organization 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.
The STSS can reach administrative decisions and fine companies for unfair dismissal. The law permits fines of up to 5,000 lempiras ($250) for a violation. Civil society, international organizations, and the STSS noted that these fines lacked credibility in the eyes of companies and municipalities due to their modest amount. Inspectors must clear their fines through the Central Office of the Inspector General, which can add months to the period between an inspection and the issuance of a fine. Both the STSS and courts may order reinstatement of workers, but the STSS lacks mechanisms to enforce these orders. The reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long.
Workers exercised with difficulty the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Due to past allegations that the registry office informed companies which workers were attempting to unionize (making it easier for companies to dismiss these workers before they gained legal protection from firing), some unions delayed providing lists of unionizing workers until after the STSS formally notified the employer of union formation. Unions were independent of the government, but some were closely aligned with political parties.
Civil servants frequently engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals. Public-sector workers held strikes without interference by authorities. Teachers, medical professionals, and others continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest nonreceipt of back pay.
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, a practice that lengthened and impeded the mediation process and the right to strike.
Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that, in cases where authorities imposed fines for violations, 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. They also fired leaders with impunity soon after workers formed unions to prevent the union from functioning. Employers further complicated matters by often barring STSS inspectors from entering to serve union protection documents. STSS inspectors rarely called on the police to gain entry into a factory to serve union protection documents. Employers often failed, with impunity, to comply with court orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activity. For example, in the Kyungshin-Lear factory in San Pedro Sula, company management repeatedly dismissed successive members of union leadership and barred STSS inspectors from entering on numerous occasions.
There were also several cases in which union leaders were threatened with violence.
There was credible evidence that some manufacturing factory employers continued with impunity to blacklist employees seeking to form unions. Some companies in other sectors, including bananas, also established employer-controlled unions, thereby preventing the formation of independent unions because of the restrictions on the number of unions per company.
There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which allow collective contracts without the presence of a union, to avoid the formation of a union. Unions also raised concerns about the increased use of temporary contracts as well as part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to attempt to avoid union formation or having to provide full benefits.
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.