The Obama administration on Monday expressed “serious concerns” about the enforcement of Guatemala’s laws protecting worker rights, stating “significant work remains to ensure that an enforcement plan signed by the Guatemalan government earlier this year is effectively implemented.”
The White House said it expects “solid progress” in the country toward fully implementing its commitments over the next six months. “If Guatemala fails to comply with the provisions of the Enforcement Plan, the U.S. government retains the right to reactivate an arbitration panel established in the 2011 labor enforcement case brought under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR),” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced.
On April 26, the United States and Guatemala signed the 18-point Enforcement Plan, outlining concrete actions to strengthen labor law enforcement in Guatemala, which Guatemala committed to implement within six months. Guatemala has adopted a number of reforms, consistent with applicable deadlines, but implementation of those reforms is key to improving worker rights in that country.
“Guatemala has taken steps to improve enforcement of worker rights, but there is substantially more progress to be made,” said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in a statement. “We will continue to work with the Guatemalan government and with our partners in the labor movement to ensure the implementation of Guatemala’s commitments to strengthen labor law compliance.”
The Obama administration said the following are among actions Guatemala has taken, so far, pursuant to the enforcement plan:
- Guatemala issued a directive to the national police to facilitate labor inspector access to worksites, hired 100 new inspectors, and submitted draft legislation to its Congress for Ministry of Labor authority to issue fine recommendations and establish an expedited process for judiciary to adopt Ministry of Labor fine recommendations.
- The country strengthened export companies’ compliance with labor laws by publishing a Ministerial Accord requiring the Ministry of Labor to conduct annual inspections of all enterprises receiving tax benefits under special provisions of Guatemalan law, reject new applications for benefits received from companies that are found to have violated labor laws, and provide a streamlined process to revoke tax benefits for existing beneficiaries that violate labor laws.
- The government is enhancing enforcement of court orders.
- It is also addressing payments to workers when enterprises suddenly close, including establish an Inter-Institutional Rapid Response Team to attempt to prevent closures of export enterprises receiving tax benefits and ensure payments owed to workers if the closure cannot be prevented.
- Finally, Guatemala is increasing stakeholder input to the government.
Meanwhile, the United States will support continued suspension of the CAFTA-DR arbitration panel at this time. If at any time during the next six months, the U.S. government determines that Guatemala is not effectively implementing the enforcement plan, it can request that the panel resume its work, Froman said.