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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Guatemala

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 - Guatemala, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 22 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 (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: 10

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Guatemala again stood out in 2011, regrettably, as the Central American country characterised predominantly by human rights violations. The right to life of trade union, rural and indigenous community leaders and human rights defenders continued to be violated. Ten trade unionists were assassinated and there were violations of every kind in municipalities, enterprises and maquilas. The Izabal Banana Workers' Unions (SITRABI) was the hardest hit. Guatemala's employers are very conservative and do not respect the right of workers to freedom of association, collective bargaining and decent work. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, far from fostering labour rights, is the obedient servant of the national and transnational employers. When there are decisions by the labour courts in favour of the workers, they are not applied.


The weak and corrupt institutions responsible for implementing the law in Guatemala have not been able to stand up to organised crime and powerful criminal gangs. Guatemala has one of the highest crime rates in the Americas. In addition to delinquency and crime there are high rates of extreme poverty.

Impunity is still the order of the day, but there was some progress in 2011, such the sentencing of four army officers for the massacre carried out by the army in 1982, during the government of Efraín Ríos Montt. On 7 November 2011, the former general and Patriotic Party (PP) candidate for the presidency of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, was elected President with 55.19% of the votes in the second round.

Trade union rights in law

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.

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

In practice

Increasing cost of social security:

In January 2011 a provisional ruling by the Constitutional Court decided not to suspend Agreement 1257, siding with the Steering Board of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS), which has increased the age and the premiums for the Invalidity, Old Age and Survival (IVS) Programme, in a clear violation of the acquired rights of IGSS affiliates.

Workers in the maquila industries are paid less than other Guatemalan workers. The situation is even more serious for indigenous and rural workers who in general earn less than the minimum wage, and 93% of whom are not covered by social security.

Violations of trade unionists' rights: The wave of assassinations that has swept across Guatemala in the last few years did not end in 2011. Trade union leaders and activists from all sectors were the victims of this generalised violence in the country. The Izabal Banana Workers' Union (SITRABI) was once again the hardest hit. Attacks on and threats against trade union leaders, human rights activists and their families also continued.


Forced evictions and violations in the rural communities: José Gabriel Cubur, of the United Rural Communities Committee (Comité de Unidad Campesina – CUC), Abelino Choc, a member of the Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT) and Carlos Paredes, a member of Community Studies and Psychosocial Action (ECAP), as well as several other human rights defenders, were the targets of harassment and aggression during the forced evictions carried out from 15 March 2011 in the Polochic Valley, Panós, in the Alta Verapaz region.

Massacre and repression of rural leaders:

At least 29 peasant farmers, including two women, were murdered and decapitated at the "Los Cocos" farm in the La Libertad municipality in the department of El Petén, on 14 and 15 May 2011. The killings took place in face of the lack of interest and negligence of the Guatemalan authorities.

The was an armed attack against peasant farmers and their families on 21 May 2011 in the Polochic Valley, notably in the communities of Agua Cliente and El Sauce Inup, Panzos, Alta Verapaz. The attack began at 8.00 in the morning when 30 guards from the Chabil Utzaj sugar mill arrived in Agua Caliente, asking for two rural leaders Oscar Reyes was assassinated and five other peasant farmers, Santiago Soc, Mario Maquin, Miguel Choc, Marcelino Ical Chub and Arnoldo Caal Rax were injured.

Assassinations of trade union leaders and activists:

On 5 January 2011 Eswin Gálvez, a doctor at the Retalhuleu hospital and member of the National Health Workers' Union of Guatemala (SNTSG), was assassinated. He was killed outside his home when he was shot at by a hired gunmen.

On 30 January 2011, Luis Alberto Castillo Castro was assassinated in Puerto Barrios, Izabal. He was Finance Secretary for the Santo Tomas de Castilla National Port Workers' Union (SINEPORNAC)

On 10 April 2011, Oscar Humberto González Vásquez, leader of the Izabal Banana Workers' Union (SITRABI) was assassinated. He was shot 35 times.

On 2 May 2011 Lorenzo Godoy Asencio was reported missing. He was the General Secretary of the Tricyclle Workers' Union of the City of Pedro de Alvarado Moyuta Jutiapa, and also General Secretary of the nascent Transport Workers' Union of Pedro de Alvarado Moyuta Jutiapa. His body was found three days later in the village of Los Angeles. There were several bullet wounds.

On 26 May 2011 Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy, Finance Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the Izabal Banana Workers' Union (SITRABI) was brutally assassinated in the town of Los Amates, Izabal. He was attacked by unidentified assailants on a motorbike, who shot at him while he was driving to the SITRABI's headquarters. The National Police and agents from the public prosecution service reported that there were several bullet wounds on the body, including one to the face.

On 21 July 2011, Lesbia Elías Xurup was hacked to death at her home in the community of La Selva, Santo Domingo, Suchitepéquez. She was a member of the Communities in Resistance gains the Union FENOSA company and of the National Front for Struggle (FNL). The killers went straight to her home and, not content with just killing her, cut off one of her hands.

On 22 July 2011, María Santos Mejía was killed after being shot in the head by criminals on a motorbike. She was the Minutes Secretary of the Independent Maquilas Union and a member of the Colonia La Brigada branch of the FNL in Zone 7, Mixco. Maria and and Lesbia's murders took place as the II Conference Against Impunity was being held in Guatemala city.

On 13 September 2011 Byron Arrega, leader of the Administrative Workers Union of the Quetzaltenango Estate, was killed when shot in the temple, as he was about to get into his car. His murder took place as the workers of the Second General Register at the Quetzaltenango Estate were calling for the dismissal of the General Registrar because of his constant violations of workers' rights.

On 24 Septemer 2011 Henry Aníbal Marroquín Orellana, a grass roots member of SITRABI, was murdered. Heavily armed gunmen shot him 17 times. He was killed just a few metres from the porter's lodge at the entrance to the Qiriguá farm, in the municipality of Los Amates, Izabal department.

On 27 October 2011 Miguel Ángel Felipe Sagatusme, founder and General Secretary of the Finca El Real Workers' Union in Morales, Izabal, was assassinated. The plantation produces fruit for the Bandegua company, a subsidiary of Del Monte. According to information received by the union, the murder was carried out by a private security agent employed by the banana plantation.

Interference by municipal authorities and public institutions:

The Mayor of Pochuta Chimeltenango did not pay the salaries, year-end bonuses or other payments owed to the municipality's employees between March 2008 and 2009. On 3 January, in an attempt to destroy the workers' union, the municipality dismissed ten workers who had continued to demand outstanding payments.

In February, workers employed by the San José municipality in El Rodeo, San Marcos department, organised a union. From that moment on they faced a whole series of problems with the municipal authorities, including wage reductions and constant dismissals without justification. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare was asked to intervene, but the process is always very slow and inspectors tend to side with the authorities.

Workers employed by the San Jerónimo municipality, Baja Verapaz, had been owned their salaries since March 2010. Their case was dealt with by the General Labour Inspectorate, the Labour Courts, and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Despite several rulings issued by labour court judges in the workers' favour, ordering the immediate payment of their salaries, as well as documents promising to pay them, and signed by the Mayor in the presence of the agents from the Public Prosecutor's Office, the workers were still not paid.

The Puerto Barrios municipality in the Izabal department owed its employees their holiday pay from 2008 to 2011. The National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP) complained that more than 400 workers had not received their holiday pay from 2008 to 2011 or their salaries for five fortnights.

On 29 March the Workers Union of the President's Wife's Social Work Department (SOSPEP) denounced violations of human and labour rights. The department ordered on 28 March that the staff on the Community Homes Programme be transferred to the SOSPEP's central offices, changing their working conditions and seeking to destabilise or even destroy the union.

The public sector National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) had still not resolved the issue of the dismissal of 11 workers in 2008. Their appeal was still with five of the Supreme Court of Justice's Labour Tribunal's. The courts of second instance ordered the reinstatement of five of them.

Dismissal of unionised workers in private enterprises:

An anti-union policy has been applied at the Santa Cecilia plantation, a private enterprise in San Francisco Zapotitlán, Suchitepéquez, that produces coffee and sugar, for years. There have been mass dismissals of union members, with the aim of weakening and destroying the organisation.

Negotiations began on 4 March 2011, with mediation by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, in an attempt to resolve the problem of the dismissals. However the company had concocted a series of false reports against the workers to incriminate them in the eyes of the government. During the negotiations, the Suchitepéquez Labour Inspectorate put pressure on the few workers who remained, and the trade union leaders.

The Tomza Corporation dismissed 12 workers on 28 May, including members of the union's Executive Committee. The dismissals followed many violations of their rights simply for exercising their rights to organise and bargain collectively, and despite court rulings prohibiting the dismissal of any of the workers.

On 17 November 2011, Aguas de Izabal, a water management company based in Puerto Barrios, Izabal, dismissed 43 workers in October after they decided to form a union. The workers asked the General Labour Inspection of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to intervene, but the matter was not resolved. The company's representative denied breaching legal provisions and the orders of the Labour Inspector.

Chiquita Brands-Cobigua, a banana company in Puerto Barrios, Izabal, has tolerated the organisation of trade unions at its Costa Atlántica plantations. However, it has undertaken a policy to ensure that they do not thrive. Hence when a natural disaster occurs they take advantage of it to damage the union and violate collective agreements. After Tropical Storm Agatha they suspended 350 permanent employees from the plantation claiming that it had affected banana cultivation, but then contradicted that claim by hiring temporary workers to replace them. The General Labour Inspectorate of Puerto Barrios, Izabal, did not authorise the request to suspend the workers, but permission was given by the head office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in the capital.

The Palo Gordo sugar mill, on the southern coast, carried out a policy of human and workers' rights violations during 2010 and 2011, dismissing trade union members with no respect for the collective agreement on working conditions. A group of workers took the case to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare which initiated negotiations. The matter was not resolved however as the Ministry accepted the employer's conditions and demands.

At the Finca las Delicias coffee plantation in Tumbador, San Marcos, workers faced severe problems because for years they had not been paid their salaries in due time and were not being paid the minimum wage established by law. A group of permanent workers were threatened with dismissal in an attempt to weaken and destroy the union. The Las Delicias Agricultural Workers' Union submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in the San Marcos Department. Although several meetings took place between the employers, trade union and the authorities, compliance with labour law has not been guaranteed, nor have the employers been penalised for breaking the law.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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