Workers in Guatemala must be protected when they speak out



Public Services International (PSI) led an international trade union delegation to meet with Guatemalan government leaders on 13-14 August, 2013.

The mission included International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) representative Alex Praça and PSI union leaders from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the United States.

We went to Guatemala to convey the international support of public services workers for PSI affiliate members in this country, and to emphasize that the global trade union movement is focused on addressing the dire situation for workers in Guatemala.

Otto Pérez Molina, the President of Guatemala, acknowledged in the meeting with our delegation that: “It is very shameful for us that our country is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.”

Our delegation told President Pérez Molina and his top ministers that our trade unions are deeply concerned that there have been at least 58 cases of trade unionists assassinated in Guatemala in recent years, yet not a single person has been brought to justice.

Members of PSI’s affiliate, the National Health Workers’ Union of Guatemala (SNTSG), have been specifically targeted.

We told government leaders that we are also alarmed about the high rate of femicide in Guatemala, and the related atmosphere that allows intimidation of, and attacks against, women union activists.

Impunity is a serious problem. If there is no possibility to advance and protect human rights, there is no possibility to build democracy.

We are committed to working with the ITUC and the ILO to raise awareness of these issues on an international level, and with the governments of our respective countries.

We will be discussing the case of Guatemala with the European Parliament in September – advocating for a suspension of favoured trade status until the labour and human rights situation is substantially improved.

Access to universal healthcare is fundamental to a democratic society.

The role of independent trade unions in building a democratic society must also be recognised as essential.

Despite currently having the largest economy in Central America, inequality is widening in Guatemala.

For a country where few official statistics are gathered, some shocking facts stand out.

Half of all children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, almost one in three children does not complete primary school, more women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth than any other country in the region, and the rate of violence against women is one of the highest in the world.

We told President Pérez Molina and the various officials that we are willing to work together to improve the conditions of health union workers, to improve access to quality health services for all members of society in Guatemala.

PSI and a number of our affiliates, including some from Sweden and Germany, have played an important role in supporting our unions in Colombia and working with the government to address the problems of violence against trade unionists there.

As we’ve done in Colombia, we are available to collaborate the moment that we see there is the sincere will to work together on the road to true democracy.

As Dora Regina Ruano, a leader of the (SNTSG) emphasised, “We don’t want bodyguards. We believe in the rule of law. We want justice.”
For more reports, photos and videos from the Guatemala mission: