/** labr.global: 325.0 **/
Guatemala: trade union wins victory in a "maquila"
By Natacha David, ICFTU OnLine, 87/970416, 16 April 1997
Brussels, April 16, 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): Marking a further breach in the anti-union offensive in the maquilas, a Guatemalan trade union has succeeded in gaining recognition from the US textile giant, Philips-Van Heusen (PVH).
PVH, whose Guatemalan factory is registered under the name Camisas Modernas, last month agreed to negotiate with the STECAMOSA union (Camisas Modernas Workers' Union), affiliated to the textile workers' international, the ITGLWF. The union, the great majority of whose members are women, has been trying to negotiate with the management at the PVH factory in Guatemala City since 1992.
The US company's change of heart occurred after its director Bruce Klatsky read a Human Rights Watch report that described the anti-union discrimination and intimidation of trade unionists by the firm's managers in Guatemala. Bruce Klatsky, a member of the board of governors of Human Rights Watch and an ardent defender of human rights, made it his personal responsibility to ensure greater respect of trade union rights.
Based on on-the-spot investigations, the Human Rights Watch report also accuses the Guatemalan government of having failed in its responsibilities and of not taking into account the union's request for recognition. Under Guatemalan legislation, which the Labour Ministry is responsible for enforcing, the management of an enterprise is obliged to negotiate with any union that represents 25% of the work force. The STECAMOSA union more than meets this requirement.
The US/Guatemala Labor Education Project (US/GLEP), which works in the field with the ITGLWF, has also welcomed this trade union victory. "It is an important step towards making enterprises recognise their responsibilities. By recognising the union at its own initiative, Philips-Van Heusen has revealed the need to set in place solid codes of conduct in the countries which do not apply their own labour legislation" commented Stephen Coats, director of US/GLEP.
The maquiladora sector employs some 80,000 people in Guatemala. None of them are protected by a collective agreement negotiated with the employer. In most cases, attempts to form a union result in the closing down of the enterprises concerned and the mass dismissal of the union's supporters. Most workers in the maquilas receive a daily minimum wage of about US$ 2.50, which is not enough to cover basic living costs. They therefore become dependent on the additional income they can earn piece rate.
But, when they join a union, they often find the possibility of earning additional income is removed. They also risk being provided with defective material which prevents them from being able to produce properly, which in turn often pushes them into giving up their job.
The publicity given to this case underlines, as the ICFTU has done on many occasions, the need to guarantee the freedom of association not just in Guatemala but in all export processing zones throughout the world, particularly in countries which do not have effective mechanisms for the protection of trade union rights.