Continued Commitment and Hard Work Must Occur for Success
WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Leo W. Gerard, International President for the United Steelworkers (USW), released this statement on today's announcement by the Obama Administration that a 'Labor Action Plan' has been agreed to by the Guatemalan government to address complaints made by the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions five years ago.
"The announcement of the Guatemalan government's agreement to a labor enforcement plan to address worker rights violations in that country comes as welcome news. For many of the Guatemalan workers, the five year wait left them wondering whether this day would ever come. The provisions of the enforcement plan, if fully implemented and effectively enforced, can make a difference in the lives of workers across Guatemala who had suffered under unacceptable conditions for far too long.
"When the Obama Administration announced its intention to pursue this case two years ago, I expressed strong support for their efforts. I said that workers in Guatemala have lost income, their jobs and in some cases, their lives attempting to exercise basic rights. The provisions in the trade agreement must be enforced on the right of free association by Guatemala workers to organize and bargain collectively.
"The persistence of the Obama Administration has made a difference. This was the first ever enforcement action on labor rights. It is a model for effective collaboration between the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Labor. The U.S. government's effective litigation of this matter made clear to Guatemala that further delay was not an option. Continued commitment and hard work must occur if the plan is to be successful. Today doesn't end the saga, it just starts another chapter.
"The Action Plan is a start and includes some important provisions, but more needs to be done to ensure its proper and effective implementation and to expand its provisions to give the Guatemalan government the power to ensure its effectiveness. And, while we appreciate what is being done, it is also important to recognize that organized labor presented more comprehensive recommendations on what the plan should contain.
"Above all, Guatemala must act to stop the violence against trade unionists. In the past seven years, more than 60 trade unionists have been murdered in Guatemala, plus 19 being killed this year. Guatemala ranks second in the world, surpassed only by Colombia's unacceptable record of violence. The Action Plan cannot be effective while workers must literally risk their lives to join a union.
"Continued assistance by the Obama Administration is vital, as well as work to strengthen the capacity of Guatemalan unions to take advantage of the opportunities created by the action plan. No government enforcement plan can work if there is not an effective worker voice in the workplace. Arbitration should begin promptly if the action plan is not completed as and when promised."