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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Guatemala

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Guatemala, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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: 14,000,000
Capital: Guatemala
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The number of trade unionists killed remained high in 2010.This illustrates the great vulnerability of workers who try to exercise their human, trade union and worker rights and the rights of the indigenous people of Guatemala. Trade union members carry out their activities under a constant threat of violence and fear of reprisal. The government does not do enough to guarantee the free exercise of trade union activities.


Despite initial guarantees, a number of excessive restrictions apply to trade union rights. The Constitution and the Labour Code recognise both private and public sector workers' freedom of association. However, to establish industry unions, the unions must represent 50% plus one of the workers in a sector. In addition, all union leaders must also be of Guatemalan origin, and be employed by the company.

Although workers have the right to bargain collectively, unions must represent more than 25% of the workers in an enterprise to engage in bargaining. There are also provisions for imposing compulsory arbitration in the event of a dispute in the public transport sector and in services related to fuel.

Furthermore, while the right to strike is recognised in the Constitution, all strikes must have the support of 51% of the workforce in the company. All education, postal, transport as well as energy workers are denied the right to strike. Finally, the law provides for imprisonment of one to five years for persons carrying out acts aimed at paralysing or disrupting enterprises that contribute to the country's economic development.


Background: There was no change in the general situation in Guatemala. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) stated that the biggest challenge it faces in all public ministries in the region is independence, because organised crime has tried to take over State institutions. Violence continues to be a scourge. The journalist Aníbal Archila, a reporter on Tele Noticiero Noti-7, was murdered. There was a fall in the level of union membership (2.2%) owing largely to the State's anti-union policies and the anti-union culture practiced by employers and tolerated by the State.

Unions operate in climate of violence: While the law contains provisions to protect trade union rights, in reality Guatemala's de facto power groups successfully use various practices to prevent the creation of trade unions, particularly in the private sector. The majority of trade union organisations have been the target of assassinations, violations, attacks, threats, smear campaigns, infiltration, parallelism and exclusion from all social dialogue forums. Despite these difficulties they have continued their socio-political work, operating as an independent trade union movement. Municipal authorities frequently violate trade union rights and working conditions, in an atmosphere of violence and threats.

Assassinations of trade unionists: The most serious violation of trade union rights in Guatemala is the assassination of leaders and members of organisations, purely because they are trade unionists.

Evelinda Ramírez Reyes was assassinated on 13 January after a meeting with members of the Congress to discuss the question of the electricity industry. She was the President of the Natural Resources Protection and Resistance Front (FRENA), an organisation that forms part of the National Front for the Defence of Public Services and Natural Resources (FNL) and the Trade Union, Indigenous Peoples' and Peasant Farmers' Movement of Guatemala (MSICG).

Pedro Antonio García was assassinated on 29 January following a strike that he led a few days earlier to protest against the Municipal authority's non-payment of salaries and non-compliance with the agreement on working conditions. He was Sports and Culture Secretary for the Malacatán Municipal Workers' Union in San Marcos, affiliated to the United Trade Union Confederation of Guatemala (CUSG) and the MISCG.

Héctor García was assassinated on 20 February during the dismantling of the union by the employers. He had refused management's offer of financial benefits in return for leaving the union. He was a member of the Hotel Workers' Union of the Americas, affiliated to the General Workers' Centre of Guatemala (CGTG) and the MSICG.

Luís Felipe Cho, a member of the Santa Cruz Municipal Workers Union, affiliated to UNSTRAGUA and MSICG, was assassinated on 6 March. He was tortured, dismembered and several vital organs were removed. He had received death threats because of his trade union activities.

Samuel Ramírez Paredes, General Secretary of the Banana Workers' Union (SITRABI) in the Panchoy district, affiliated to CUSG and MSICG, was assassinated on 26 March.

Juan Fidel Pacheco Coc, General Secretary of the Directorate General for Migration Employees Workers' Union, was tortured then killed on 31 July after submitting an official complaint about the illegal trafficking of persons and influence to the Human Rights Ombudsman. He had repeatedly asked for security measures.

Bruno Ernesto Figueroa, who received several bullet wounds on 7 August, died on 10 August. He was Finance Secretary of the sub-branch of the Health Care Integration System, of the SNTSG, a part of the FNL and a member of the MSICG.

On 29 September David Pineda Barahona, Organising and Minutes Secretary of the subsidiary of the San Benito, Petén Vector Programme workers' union was assassinated.

On 30 September Carlos Enrique Méndez Ramírez from the subsidiary of the National Mental Health Hospital was shot dead by unknown assailants.

Also on 27 September, Fredy Geovani López Caal, Disputes Secretary of the National Health Workers Union of Guatemala at the Mechor de Mencos National Hospital in Petén was assassinated.

Trade unionist shot at by municipal official: The General Workers' Centre of Guatemala (CGTG) and UNSITRAGUA denounced the attack on Abel Barsilai Girón Roldán, a member of the Zaragoza Municipal Workers' Union, in the Chimaltenango department, on 20 January.

Employer interference: The Hotel Las Americas S.A. Workers' Union (SITPHA) reported that the employer, with the support of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, had interfered in the affairs of the union and tried to destroy it. On 28 January Héctor García Véliz, a member of the union said that the employer, via their trusted employees, had asked him to leave the union because it was affecting the company.

Corporations denounced: On 30 July the United States trade representative presented a case against the Government of Guatemala, for the systematic violation of workers' rights enshrined in the free trade agreement between the two countries. The complaint concerned Alianza Moda where workers were dismissed for trying to exercise their right to organise. According to the complaint, the government had done nothing to protect the workers' rights.

Intimidation of trade unionists on a farm: On 21 July, members of the La Soledad Farm Workers Union (SITRASOLEDAD) in the Patulul municipality, Suchitepéquez department lodged a complaint with the Public Ministry about threats and intimidation against Rodrigo García Cunen, Carlos Aníbal Ramírez Páiz and Carlos Enrique Serech, who were General Secretary, Finance Secretary and Labour and Disputes Secretary respectively. On 31 July, Rodrigo García Cunen was shot at and received a bullet wound to the stomach.

Employers' anti-trade union strategies: The union at the Textiles Modernos S. A. (TEXMOSA) company used to have 291 members. By 31 December 2010 it had just 34. The employer had put pressure on workers to leave the union, and on those who were not members to never join. During the year the union served proceedings against the company to prevent the dismissal of workers. TEXMOSA merged with two other companies, FABENSA and HITISA, which were under the same ownership. In September, wishing to affiliate workers from the other two companies and strengthen its organisation, the union submitted a proposed reform of its statutes to the Directorate General of Labour. The Ministry of Labour repeatedly sought to block the reforms. The reform of the statutes had not been decided on at the end of the year.

Banana companies not respecting trade union rights: The six existing trade unions on the nine plantations working for the company COBIGUA, a subsidiary of the fruit multinational Chiquita, affiliated to UNSTRAGUA and a part of the Trade Union, Indigenous Peoples' and Peasant Farmers' Movement of Guatemala (MSICG) reported a deterioration in the working conditions established in their Collective Agreement on Working Conditions. Furthermore, pressure is being put on trade union leaders with the publication of so-called productivity lists, showing their low productivity as a result of taking trade union leave. Against this background, death threats were made against Leonel Pérez Lara, a member of the UNSITRAGUA board of coordinators and of the MSICG Political Council. The companies have also implemented a system of worker exploitation, including sub-contracting to hide the employment relationship and avoid an increase in trade union membership.

Violations by the government: The Workers' Union of the President's Wife's Secretariat for Social Works (SITRASEC) lodged a complaint with the Social Welfare and Labour Courts, under the terms of ILO Convention 98, about a collective agreement on working conditions. Their aim is to improve the current working conditions in Secretariat, which undermine workers' job stability.

Anti-union attitudes in the labour inspectorate: In 2008 a group of workers at the San Marcos National Hospital formed a trade union and presented their paperwork to the General Directorate of Labour and the General Inspectorate of Labour for registration. On 11 March, the General Inspectorate of Labour issued decisions that imposed prior conditions on workers wishing to register. The workers complied with the first two decisions. However, after the third decision was issued, the workers became disillusioned with the countless obstacles created by the Labour Ministry to the registration of a trade union and decided to proceed no further. This is common practice in the Labour Ministry which sets out preconditions for the registration of trade unions, the reform of statutes and the registration of new leaders. This discourages workers from organising and in the end they desist from forming trade unions.

Anti-union harassment and threats: Anthony Segura, General Secretary of the Tax Inspection Workers' Union (SAT) reported that high level authorities were intimidating employees and representatives of the recently created trade union. The union was formed after 12 years of injustice such as unfair dismissals, unpaid overtime and heavy pressure to work in customs. María de los Ángeles Ruano, a trade union leader, received death threats, which were also directed at her family.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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