Population: 14,000,000
Capital: Guatemala
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Sixteen trade union leaders were assassinated during 2009. Fourteen of them belonged to the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG. The same illicit measures continue to be used to stop workers from exercising their trade union rights: murder, abduction, torture, intimidation, repression and threats. Other worrying practices include the poaching of members and the promotion of "parallel" unions aimed at dividing the labour movement, stripping it of its independence and making it serve the interests of the government rather than the genuine needs and interests of Guatemala's workers, together with the repeated violence against MSICG members and their representatives. The ILO mission that visited Guatemala in February expressed concern at the general lack of independence of the judicial and labour authorities. Trade union activities are hindered by excessive requirements in terms of minimum membership and representation figures.

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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Plagued by organised crime, drug trafficking and hard hit by the global economic crisis, Guatemala continues to struggle with governance issues and destabilisation. A number of figures linked to the business community were murdered and the blame was laid with President Colom's administration.

CGTG and MSICG members murdered, abducted and threatened: Numerous trade unionists belonging to various unions affiliated to the national trade union centre, Central General de Trabajadores de Guatemala (CGTG), which is part of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, were murdered or abducted.

Amado Monzón, a member of Coatepeque workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de Coatepeque, affiliated to the CGTG, was murdered on 12 March. He had been the victim of threats aimed at forcing him to abandon his trade union activities for several months.

On 6 April, around 50 municipal and national police officers used extreme force to remove informal economy workers from the market in Coatepeque. Several police officers were wearing balaclavas and carrying high calibre firearms. Thirteen people were wounded by bullets shot by the state security forces. The armed attack was aimed most specifically at Diego Gustavo Chiti Pu and Sergio Alejandro Ramírez Huezo, who died shortly afterwards from their injuries. They were both members of the Coatepeque workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de Coatepeque.

On 16 July, Julián Capriel Marroquín, assistant general secretary of the Jocotán street vendors' union, Sindicato de Vendedores de la Plaza Pública de Jocotán, was murdered in the department of Chiquimula.

On 5 December, unknown assailants murdered Olga Marina Ramirez Sansé, a member of the Oriente vendors union, Sindicato Gremial de Vendedores de Oriente. She had received a number of death threats.

On 28 May, Victoriano Zacarías Míndez, assistant general secretary of the CGTG was abducted by armed men. He was fortunately able to escape from his captors unharmed.

General secretary of Coatepeque municipal workers' union intimidated: On 17 January, after demanding the settlement of unpaid wages for 23 municipal workers in Coatepeque, Irma Judith Montes, general secretary of the Coatepeque municipal workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Municipalidad de Coatepeque, affiliated to the national trade union centre CUSG and the MSICG, was intimidated by an armed individual who stationed himself in front of her house for a number of hours.

FES coordinator persecuted: On 26 January, Lesbia Guadalupe Amézquita Garnica, coordinator of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (FES) trade union project for Central America, which works with the MSICG, was chased by a car that rammed into her vehicle as she made her way home, in the department of Chiquimula. Lesbia Amézquita had already been forced into exile for over a month in 2008, following persecution and acts of intimation linked to her work with the MSICG.

Threats against member of UNSITRAGUA and MSICG: As of the month of February, Efrén Emigdio Sandoval Sanabria, a member of the coordinating board of the national trade union centre UNSITRAGUA and the political council of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, was the target of repeated death threats, issued in various forms. On 27 May, he was threatened with torture and death in an email sent from [email protected]. The threats were modelled on those used against the trade union movement at the time of the internal armed conflict.

Continued threats against CCDA and MSICG leader: On 26 February, just days after a high-level mission of the ILO left the country, having made strong recommendations to the Guatemalan state with regard to the lack of respect for the most fundamental trade union rights, Leocadio Juracán, a coordinator of the Altiplano campesino committee, CCDA, and a member of the political council of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, received death threats on his mobile phone. In 2008, an attempt was made on Leocadio's life: the car he was travelling in received several gunshots.

Abduction and torture FNL general secretary's wife: On 10 March, Maritza Elosay Pérez Carrillo, wife of César Orlando Jiménez Méndez, general secretary at the Hospital Hermano Pedro de Betancourt, affiliated to the national front for the defence of public services and natural resources, FNL, which is part of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, was abducted and tortured. The abductors sent the following message to César Orlando Jiménez Méndez: "Keep away from the union or your children will be next".

Leader of health workers' union intimidated and threatened: On 1 April, Edgar Neftaly Aldana, general secretary of the San Benito branch of the national health workers' union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Salud, in the department of Petén, was threatened with death and his house was shot at. He realised that he was being followed by two unidentified men and, a few hours later, received an anonymous phone call threatening himself and his wife with death for being trade unionists. This intimidation is linked to his work against corruption and discrimination at the San Benito hospital. The authorities have not provided the family with any type of protection.

Trade unionists and MSICG members receive death threats for demonstrating: The demonstrations in support of creating a municipal electricity company were the scene of brutal attacks against trade unionists, including the leader of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, Víctor Gálvez. On 20 June, four people were attacked and received death threats during a demonstration in front of the National Electricity Institute, INDE. The demonstrators were also calling on the state to take control of electrical energy production, to strengthen INDE and to pass a General Law on Electricity.

FRENA leader shot to death: On 25 October, Víctor Gálvez, a member of the natural resources protection and resistance front, FRENA, affiliated to the national front for the defence of public services and natural resources, FNL, which is part of the Guatemalan labour, indigenous and campesino movement, MSICG, was killed, riddled with bullets, by an unknown assailant, in Malacatán, San Marcos. The trade union leader had been defending consumers' rights, which are repeatedly violated by DEOCSA and DEORSA, subsidiaries of the Spanish multinational Unión Fenosa.

Illegal detention of MSICG representatives presenting damning report on multinationals: On 6 November, Dora Baján, Blanca Villatoro, Cristina Ardón, María Reyes, Ingrid Ruano, Deysi Gonzales, Hortensia Gómez, Marielos Ruano, María Barrios and Etelvina Tojín went to the Labour Ministry to present a report on the labour rights violations suffered by women at the plantations supplying bananas to the multinationals Chiquita Brand and Del Monte Fresh. Staff and public servants at the Ministry proceeded to close the doors, leaving the ten women locked behind the railings surrounding the building. They then began to take photos and video films of them, firing verbal abuse at them, in a bid to intimidate them and prevent them from exercising their trade union and labour rights.

SITRAPETEN members forcibly dislodged: On 10 December, 250 heavily armed state security officers forcibly removed 25 members of the Petén distribution workers' union, SITRAPETEN, along with a number of MSICG political council members and journalists, to free the area to set up the stage for a concert to be shown on a TV programme produced by the Mexican television station TV Azteca. SITRAPETEN members had been engaged in acts of peaceful resistance for over a year, following the unfair dismissal of workers at Agua Pura Salvavidas for organising a union.

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