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Guatemala must respect freedom of association

9 June, 2022IndustriALL representatives presented to the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) the violations of the right to freedom of association faced by affiliates in Guatemala.

In the garment sector, an important part of Guatemala’s economy, freedom of association is virtually impossible and there is an immense pressure on unions. Workers are often intimidated, threatened, blacklisted and even fired, and fear that employers will retaliate if they join a union.

The government of Guatemala was invited to submit information to the CAS on individual cases concerning the application of Convention 87 on freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize.

On 6 June, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan, raised on behalf of the workers’ delegation, the violations against IndustriALL's Guatemalan affiliate FESTRAS (Federación Sindical de Trabajadores de la Alimentación, Agroindustria y Similar de Guatemala).

Özkan explained that workers in Guatemala face threats and intimidation that prevent the full exercise of Convention 87. He noted that FESTRAS informed IndustriALL that one of its affiliates, the SITRAWINNERS union, faces violations of Conventions 87 and 98.

Winners, owned by South Korean company SA-E SAE Group, does not respect the right to freedom of association. A fortnight ago, the company shut down its operations and dismissed a number of workers in an attempt to prevent union membership. The former Winners employees tried to get new jobs, but claim they were not hired due to the conflict at the previous employer.

According to the workers, Winners management use physical and psychological violence, intimidation and threats against the union. The local union general secretary was harassed and received death threats, and was forced to move to a safe place.

In his statement, Kemal Özkan, said:

"The attacks against trade union leaders happen every day, as they defend workers’ rights.

“We therefore urge the government of Guatemala to take immediate steps to create an environment where workers can exercise their fundamental right to freedom of association, with clear timelines and in compliance with Convention 87".