At a recent event of Guatemalan agricultural entrepreneurs, with the presence of five ministers of the new government (MAGA, Economy, Environment, Labor, and Communication), essential issues for the business agenda were discussed.
Each of these officials was pleased to present the ministerial perspectives. The Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Miriam Roquel, stressed the importance of social dialogue to reach agreements and advance the issue of child labor. In Guatemala, although it is true that the situation of child labor is still a task to be resolved, there are also many other issues that need to be not only discussed, but also solved structurally, that were not mentioned by the minister.
In the country, the National Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association was established in 2018 based on the commitment made in the Tripartite Agreement signed before the ILO Administrative Council in November 2017.
In this Commission, representatives of the worker sector, the employer sector and the government sector meet to discuss the issues contemplated in a “Road Map” that include, among others, the situation of impunity in matters of anti-union violence, legislative reforms to promote respect for labor and union rights, improvement of the Labor Inspection and access to labor justice.
However, after five years of dialogue, very little has been achieved in addressing these tasks.
This is why the topic of dialogue arouses concern, fueled by the serious labor and social situation facing the country. It is already known that the minimum labor rights provided for in current legislation are not met.
An example of this is that 55.2% of the Guatemalan population lives below poverty rates (World Bank 2023), 65% of workers are without a written employment contract (ENEI 2022), Regarding the hours worked and salaries of many workers, these do not respect the minimum rights contemplated by law (the average monthly labor income is below the minimum wage), the unionization rate does not exceed 2% of workers in the formal economy (being much lower in private companies), Labor benefits and access to social security are not met, some 71.1% of the employed population is in the informal sector (ENEI 2022).
Social dialogue involves not only communication and consultation, but also negotiation to change the situations generated by social injustice and are impacted by the prevailing labor, economic and social policies.
In this sense, effective social dialogue is essential to ensure that the interests and needs of all parties are considered and appropriate actions are taken.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) emphasizes the importance of social dialogue to achieve decent work and social stability.
Let us remember that the State of Guatemala has ratified the fundamental ILO conventions that include the commitment to decent work. Social dialogue, as it has been carried out in Guatemala, seems more like a delaying process that has not led to any substantial change (“golden the pill” in good Chapin). On the contrary, the only thing that has been achieved is accommodation of the sectors that should be influencing change, so that social justice becomes a reality that benefits all workers in the country.
It is therefore essential that the new government acts on the matter and through various tools, including social dialogue, promotes concrete actions, policies and programs that meet the demands of the vast majority of people through a labor policy consistent with the prevailing needs of this country.
This labor policy should comply with the rights of workers by guaranteeing fair and equitable treatment, safe working conditions and decent wages.
Both the “Road Map” and international agreements and even the labor chapter of the CAFTA trade agreement emphasize that the protection of the right to unionize and collective bargaining is necessary in all productive sectors of the country. This is why the pending labor policy would have to take this need into account, including the effective protection of the basic human rights of union members and union leaders, considering the large number of murders that have been committed against these people.
Other aspects to consider would be the achievement of a real salary that allows workers to cover their basic needs and have a decent standard of living for the worker and their family. In addition, the universal access and improvement of social security, as the basis to protect workers and their families and comply with the human right of access to health, a human right guaranteed in the constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.
Prompt and effective attention to complaints of violations of labor rights is a relevant aspect to guarantee compliance. And finally, considering the situation of workers in the informal economy, to promote fair treatment and the possibility of accessing jobs that take into account the social, educational and cultural situation of this group of workers.