ITUC OnLine – February 10, 2010

El Salvador:  Appalling Situation in the Export Processing Zones

Brussels, 10 February 2010: A new ITUC study on core labour standards in El Salvador reports that many of the 67,000 mostly women workers employed in the country’s 15 export processing zones suffer from appalling treatment ranging from verbal abuse and threats to physical abuse and sexual harassment. There is a clear anti-trade union policy and dismissal of workers planning to join or form a union. Many consider that working conditions in export processing zones can be assimilated to forced labour.   

On 15 January 2010, Victoriano Abel Vega, the general secretary of SITRAMSA (Sindicato de trabajadores y Empleados Municipales de la Alacaldía de Santa Ana), was murdered on his way to San Salvador where he was due to attend a meeting with several other trade unionists in preparation for a complaints procedure regarding the unfair dismissal of several employees of the municipality of Santa Ana, in breach of Conventions 87 and 98.  He had been sent death threats in connection with his role as a trade union leader and his condemnation of the dismissals. In a letter to the Salvadorian authorities, the ITUC urged President Mauricio Funes to immediately launch an enquiry to identify and punish with the full force of the law all those responsible for this brutal crime.  

The ITUC report, published to coincide with the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) review of El Salvador’s trade policies, finds that many public workers are barred from exercising their right to organise, and that the right to strike is so restricted as to be virtually impossible to implement.  Although El Salvador recently ratified the ILO core Conventions on trade union rights in order to benefit from access to the EU’s GSP trade benefits scheme, these are still not applied in practice. Workers in the private sector face many restrictions such as excessive formalities and requirements before they can establish or join unions. Anti-union practices are widespread, and public authorities do not intervene to stop them. Furthermore, the law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers illegally dismissed because of their trade union membership or activities.  

Women in El Salvador earn 88% of men’s average wage and are underrepresented in high-skilled and high-wage jobs. The report finds that to date, the government has not adopted any policy regarding equality of opportunity and that its response to discrimination in employment and remuneration has been largely insufficient. National legislation still does not refer to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value as stipulated in the ILO’s Conventions.  

Child labour remains a widespread problem that the government has failed to address adequately. In particular the persistence of the worst forms of child labour such as fireworks manufacture, work in garbage dumps and prostitution is a source of serious concern. According to state data more than 67 per cent of children are engaged in some form of work. In rural areas child labourers are found working in agriculture and commerce, while in urban areas they are more frequently employed in street vending and in manufacturing. 

Another of the report’s findings is that, although outlawed, forced labour occurs through the trafficking of human beings, especially women and girls for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Forced labour also exists in prisons where convicted prisoners are under an obligation to work.  

For the full ITUC report in Spanish: in English

Guatemala:  Alarming Increase in Anti-Union Violence 

Brussels, 10 February 2010: The ITUC, its regional organisation the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) and its Guatemalan affiliates CGTG, CUSG and UNSITRAGUA, grouped within the Guatemalan Labour, Indigenous and Campesino Movement, are seriously concerned at the alarming increase in anti-union violence seen in Guatemala since the year 2007. 

The poaching of members and the rise of “parallel” unions aimed at dividing the labour movement, robbing it of its independence and making it serve the interests of the government rather than the genuine interests and needs of Guatemala’s workers, are a cause for grave concern, together with the recurrent violence against MSICG members and representatives.   

The national, regional and international trade union movement is seriously alarmed by the government’s attempts to delegitimize the MSICG in national and international forums, rather than encouraging solid and inclusive social dialogue aimed at eradicating the violence, the lack of respect for the core conventions of the ILO, and thus bringing an end to the impunity prevailing in the country.   

On 2 February, bearing witness to the unusual level of anti-union violence, the MSICG presented a report on the serious human rights violations registered from the year 2005 to January 2010 .  

The TUCA and the ITUC fully support their affiliates and the Labour, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG) in their brave and committed dedication to trade union rights in Guatemala. In a statement delivered by TUCA in Guatemala, Victor Báez and Amanda Villatoro called on the government to “take every step necessary to bring an immediate halt to the acts violating trade union rights and freedoms”. 


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