Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 08:46:55 -0500 (CDT)
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From: cerigua <email@example.com>
ILO Lenient with Labor Officials
Cerigua Weekly Briefs, 18 June 1999
Geneva, June 18. The International Labour Organization (ILO) sent a mixed message to Guatemalans this week, upbraiding their government for failing to respect workers' right to organize, while at the same time giving it a place on the entity's governing body.
The Guatemalan government is touting the conclusions of the ILO's 87th annual International Labor Conference, which ended here yesterday, as a resounding vote of confidence for the Alvaro Arz administration and its approach to labor issues. The election of Guatemala to the organization's governing body, the first time the country has occupied an ILO post, "constitutes a show of solidarity with government efforts to improve relations between employers and workers" a Labor Ministry press release boasted.
The ministry went on to blame divisions among Guatemalan labor leaders for any failure to meet the requirements of ILO conventions. At the conference, "the workers petitioned for a special paragraph on Guatemala, which constitutes a kind of moral reprimand by the ILO, but it was not accepted by the plenary of the Conference's Standards Committee," the statement added.
But the transcripts of the ten-day conference paint a rather different picture of government endeavors in the field. "Deeply regretting the lack of progress," the assembly of government, labor and employer representatives from 174 nations "strongly urged the (Guatemalan) Government to adopt the necessary measures to eliminate without delay in law and practice the supervision of trade union activities by the public authorities... and other restrictions to the right to organize." The conference also "noted with concern the seriousness of the cases before the Committee on Freedom of Association" and called on the government to respect workers' civil liberties.
During the debate over ongoing violations in Guatemala of ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, worker members of the assembly noted that the ILO's Committee of Experts had found numerous sections of the country's Labor and Penal Codes that contravene the agreement, including: strict supervision of trade union activities; multiple restrictions on the right to organize based on nationality, literacy, existence of a police record, and employment; and limitations on the right to strike with contravention subject to prison terms of up to five years.
Pointing to ongoing repression against worker representatives that ranges from harassment to murder, they said it was "unacceptable and frightening to note that the inertia of the authorities (to change these laws) was paid for in human lives."
A worker representative from Norway added that where 11 unions had existed three years ago in Guatemala's maquila textile factories, there were none today.
Even the employers represented here chastised the Arz administration for still interfering with the internal working of the nation's trade unions. In this regard, employer members called for "changes without delay since these matters have been under discussion for a number of years."
Despite these charges and numerous warnings issued in the past, the assembly gave the country another chance to pull its laws into line with the convention it ratified 47 years ago.
In addition, Guatemala was elected along with 17 other nations to form the ILO's Governing Body during the next three years, a position which should "only serve to make this responsibility more clear," according to a government representative from Uruguay.
Cerigua Weekly Briefs are published 48 times a year by the Centro de Reportes Informativos de Guatemala
Publisher: Ileana Alamilla
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