Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:55 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - El Salvador

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - El Salvador, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 6,200,000
Capital: San Salvador

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: 1
Injuries: 3
Arrests: 1

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Trade union demonstrations and strike action, used as a means of exerting pressure, continued to be repressed. Attacks on workers' trade union rights, physical integrity and freedom of association were constant, as demonstrated by the arrest of a representative of the LIDO workers' union and the refusal by private companies to allow the free exercise of organising and collective bargaining rights. Despite efforts by the present government to facilitate unionisation in the public sector, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security demonstrated a total lack of interest in defending the rights of the workers and union leaders affected by unfair dismissals and acts of repression in municipal councils across the country. The murder of a trade union leader remains unpunished.


The country continues to be plagued by violence. A report of the Citizens' Council for Public Security and Penal Justice pointed out that the murder rate in 2011 in the city of San Salvador was 94 for every 100,000 inhabitants and that the nationwide murder rate was 53 for every 100,000 inhabitants.

Expectations that the government of President Funes would bring greater freedoms were not met. The reform of the judicial legislation, promoted and approved by right-wing parties in the Legislative Assembly and endorsed by the president, grants the current Legislative Assembly unlimited powers and halts the work of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), leaving citizens without legal protection against acts and decisions violating their constitutional rights.

President Mauricio Funes has turned his back on the people and is moving closer to business with the approval of Decree 743, drawn up to restrict the powers of the Constitutional Chamber. In response to this move, the Coalition for Political and Electoral Reform (CREE) called a citizens' protest to coincide with the XLI General Assembly of the OAS in June, to press the Legislative Assembly to repeal Decree 743 and restore the independence of the CSJ.

Trade union rights in law

Despite some recent improvements, trade union rights remain excessively restricted. Decree No. 33 of June 2009, which modified article 47 of the Constitution, extended the right to organise to public servants. However members of the legal profession and those employed in the District Attorney's Office are still excluded. To form a union at least 35 members are required, and prior authorisation from the government is needed to register. Members of a union's leadership bodies must also be Salvadorian by birth.

While the right to collective bargaining is recognised, in order to engage in collective bargaining for the first time, a union's membership must represent at least 51% of the workforce in the establishment. Collective agreements concluded with a public institution must also be endorsed by the respective ministry, and are subject to prior consultation with the Ministry of Finance.

All strikes must relate to a collective agreement or the defence of the workers' professional interests. A protected strike must be backed by an absolute majority of the employees in a workplace, and unions must also wait four days after receiving the approval of the Ministry of Labour before beginning a strike. Public and municipal employees are banned from striking. Strikes in essential services are likewise prohibited. However there is no reference in the law indicating which services are essential. Finally, the Director-General of Labour has the power to determine the extent of the minimum service at the request of one of the parties.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Trade union rights crushed: The 67,000 workers, mainly women, employed in El Salvador's 15 export processing zones (EPZ) are faced with exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment. The textile maquila is characterised by its staunch anti-union policy, dismissing workers attempting to exercise their trade union rights, be it forming a union or joining an existing one. EPZ employees are considered to work in slave-like conditions. Many public employees are also denied the right to organise and there are so many restrictions on the right to strike that it is practically impossible to exercise it. Private sector workers are faced with heavy restrictions as well as excessive requirements and red tape when trying to form or affiliate with a union. Anti-union practices are extremely widespread and the public authorities do not take adequate measures to stop them. Furthermore, the law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers unfairly dismissed on account of their union membership or activities.


Murder of trade union leader unpunished: On 15 January 2010, Victoriano Abel Vega, general secretary of the Santa Ana municipal workers' union SITRAMSA, was murdered after receiving death threats. On 13 January 2011, given the state's failure to take any action, the Central Autónoma de Trabajadores Salvadoreños (CATS) and its affiliates, the municipal workers' federation FESITRAMES and SITRAMSA, filed a complaint against the state of El Salvador with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for violating freedom of association and the right to life.

Peaceful municipal workers' protest suppressed: On 9 March 2011, the Municipal Council of Mejicanos, governed by Mayor Blandino Nerio, illegally suppressed a peaceful and legitimate protest held in defence of long-held gains. Over a dozen workers affiliated to the Mejicanos municipal council workers' union SETRAME were harassed, beaten and burned with pepper gas. Three leaders of the national municipal workers' federation FESITRAMES were seriously injured by municipal agents from Mejicanos, who were acting on the Mayor's orders to suppress the workers' protest at any cost.

Trade union leader unjustly and illegally imprisoned: On 8 June 2011, as LIDO workers were peacefully exercising the right to strike at the Boulevard del Ejército plant, the manager pressed false charges against Atilio Jaimes Pérez, general secretary of the LIDO workers' union SELSA, accusing him of issuing death threats. The trade union leader was called outside the plant, supposedly to hold talks with the management, only to find himself confronted with National Civil Police officers, who proceeded to arrest him. The company said it would drop the charges if the workers ended the strike. The trade union leader was held like a common criminal in the cells of the National Civil Police in San Bartolo. His release was finally secured thanks to international solidarity and pressure combined with the efforts of his union colleagues.

Unfair dismissals and transfers in municipal councils:

In November 2010, the Santa Ana Municipal Council initiated dismissal proceedings against Karla Beatriz López Contreras, an executive member of the Santa Ana municipal workers' union SITRAMSA. The Council also ordered her suspension pending the completion of the dismissal procedure. Following up on a complaint filed with the International Labour Organisation, the Labour Minister requested a report on the matter from the Santa Ana Labour Court. At the end of 2011, over one year after the procedure had been initiated, the dismissal was found to be unlawful and the Municipal Council was ordered to reinstate her.

In June 2010, José Fausto Recinos, employed as a driver with the municipal police force (CAM) of the Mejicanos Municipal Council, was transferred without prior notice. The Central Autónoma de Trabajadores Salvadoreños (CATS) initiated protection proceedings, taking action against the Mejicanos Municipal Council for failure to comply with due process and the violation of trade union immunity.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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