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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - El Salvador

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - El Salvador, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 15 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 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The new left-wing government has taken measures to facilitate the right to unionise, including in the public sector. Around 16 trade union organisations were legally registered during the first six months of the current administration. Private sector companies, however, continue to violate ILO Convention 87, intimidating workers and denying their right to organise. The law fails to provide adequate guarantees for the free exercise of trade union activities, and trade union rights are limited for many public sector workers.

Trade union rights in law

There are a number of concerns despite basic trade union rights being guaranteed. The Constitution and Labour Code recognise the right to join and form trade unions, however numerous categories of workers are denied freedom of association, including many public sector workers. 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.

Furthermore, 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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Despite the elections being over and the new government in place, there was no easing of the extreme political polarisation in the country. Criminal violence has increased to the point that it is virtually uncontrollable, affecting the entire nation's social and economic life. The Executive has not yet presented its government programme. The Salvadorian authorities confirmed that the economy is in difficulty and expressed fears that the worst is yet to come. Exports were expected to fall by 15% and family remittances by 10% by the end of 2009.

Trade union education centre established: During the first 100 days of the new government, which took office on 1 June, a trade union education centre was established within the Labour Ministry. It is hoped that labour rights and trade union freedoms will be included in the curriculums of secondary schools and higher education centres.

"Flexible" labour practices hinder right to organise: Employment practices such as subcontracting workers via third companies act as a barrier to organising and collective bargaining. In such cases, the employers' responsibilities are diluted and totally obscured, since the companies and management that the workers deal with directly are not their legal employers. As a result, the company will never recognise a union and is even less likely to engage in collective bargaining.

Trade unionists' right to work violated: Discriminatory "blacklists" are one of the tools most frequently used by employers against trade unions, especially in the export processing zones. By denying jobs to people with any links to trade unions, companies succeed in excluding virtually all trade unionists from these zones, thus making it harder to create new unions. There is total complicity between the various firms, which all send these lists to one another. In spite of repeated complaints, the state institutions are doing nothing to tackle this problem.

Anti-union policy in export processing zones: Although the right to collective bargaining is recognised in law, it is not applied in export processing zones (EPZs), owing to the extreme anti-union discrimination practised by employers, and the government's abdication of its responsibility to defend the collective bargaining rights of workers in EPZs. Any attempt at organising is repressed. Workers attempting to form or join a union are threatened either with dismissal or the relocation of the company, which would leave everyone jobless.

Trade union recognition: According to Jaime Rivera, head of the electrical sector union, Sindicato de Trabajadores del Sector Eléctrico (STSEL), and general secretary of the national public workers' federation, Federación Sindical de Trabajadores de los Servicios Públicos de EL Salvador (FESTRASPES), one of the most significant advances seen with the new government is the speeding up of trade union recognition, in some cases. One example is the recognition of the union at the AVX-Kyocera factory, Sindicato de Trabajadores de Empresa AVX-Kyocera (SITRAVX), in the San Bartolo export processing zone. This union had been waiting for recognition from the Labour Ministry for two years and the company took advantage of this time to dismiss and intimidate its founders.

Another emblematic case is the communications industry union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Comunicaciones (SITCOM), which has been waiting to be registered for six years and despite more recent hopes of seeing the process accelerated, it had still not been recognised by the end of 2009.

Making headway: According to various unions, positive changes have been seen in the way the Labour Ministry now operates, especially in the area of inspections related to labour rights violations. It has also been noted that, with the change in government attitude, it is easier to raise awareness and recruit workers, including subcontracted staff, and to establish a social dialogue with companies on issues such as job stability and security.

Continued deficiencies: The Labour Ministry's mediation between trade unions and employers remains inadequate. The Labour Ministry mediators act only as listeners and have no other powers or competences to ensure effective mediation.

Anti-union practices persist: Practices such as subcontracting workers constitute an obstacle to trade union organising and collective bargaining. In addition, blacklists are still being circulated, especially in the export processing zones, and anyone who has had any links with a trade union is denied the right to work.

Threats from the government: On 7 January, the Health Minister threatened members of the nursing union, Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores de Enfermería de El Salvador (SIGEESAL), with legal action and "even imprisonment" if they continued with the stoppage in hospitals. The union was taking action in support of the demand for a USD 300 bonus at the beginning of each year.

Attempted dismissals: On 7 January, the Health Minister threatened members of the nursing union, Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores de Enfermería de El Salvador (SIGEESAL), with legal action and "even imprisonment" if they continued with the stoppage in hospitals. The union was taking action in support of the demand for a USD 300 bonus at the beginning of each year.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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