US, Guatemala resolve labor enforcement concerns
Vicki Needham. The Hill. April 12, 2013

The United States and Guatemala have agreed on a robust plan to resolve labor law enforcement concerns.

Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris announced on Thursday an 18-point plan that includes specific actions with time frames that Guatemala will implement within six months to improve labor law enforcement.

The labor case is the first that the United States has brought to dispute settlement under a trade agreement, the Dominican Republic-Central America-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

“This landmark agreement with Guatemala demonstrates that, by using the tools in our trade agreements, we can achieve tangible and concrete commitments that will improve the daily lives of workers in Guatemala and ensure a level playing field for American workers upon its implementation,” Marantis said.

“This plan reflects Guatemala’s commitment to constructive engagement to meet its labor obligations under our trade agreement and the United States’ commitment to working with our trade agreement partners to help ensure respect for labor rights.”

Under the plan, Guatemala is expected to strengthen labor inspections, expedite and streamline the process of sanctioning employers and ordering remediation of labor violations, increase labor law compliance by exporting companies, improve the monitoring and enforcement of labor court orders, publish labor law enforcement information and establish mechanisms to ensure that workers are paid what they are owed when factories close.

Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO’s international department director, said the plan “represents a crucial first step in addressing the egregious worker rights violations facing Guatemalan workers, and we look forward to working closely with our government and with our union colleagues in Guatemala to ensure that it is implemented effectively, transparently, and thoroughly.”

“However, more needs to be done to strengthen Guatemala’s labor laws, to sanction violators, and to stem the violence against trade unionists.”

Nearly five years ago, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan worker organizations filed a case alleging that the Guatemalan government had violated its labor obligations by failing to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala’s enforcement.