US: Presses Guatemala again on labour law reforms
US Trade Representative Michael Froman has said his administration is once again taking action on behalf of workers globally by proceeding with its labour enforcement case against Guatemala.
Froman, who visited the central American country last month, has been looking into information concerning legal reforms and actions to strengthen labour law enforcement, and whether these are leading to concrete improvements to Guatemalan workers' rights.
In Washington late last week, he told a meeting involving AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and Deputy Secretary of Labour Chris Lu, that America's trade agreements "must advance both our interests and our values, they must be monitored closely, and the obligations of our trading partners must be enforced".
Central to that commitment, he said, are "strong, enforceable labor standards".
The US and Guatemala agreed an 18-point Enforcement Plan on the issue in April last year, but in March the USTR threatened to reactivate an arbitration panel if Guatemala did not improve enforcement of worker rights.
Since then, the Guatemalan government has adopted a number of reforms, but Froman continues to believe it has yet to fully implement its obligations under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
"In April of last year, we finished working together on the ladder that was needed: an 18-point enforcement plan with concrete steps to strengthen labour law enforcement, Froman told the meeting.
"And having agreed on that plan, we suspended this arbitration, as we have on a number of occasions, so that Guatemala would have every opportunity to follow through on their commitments and demonstrate that changes were being made on the ground. Ultimately, though, the ladder we built together remains Guatemala's to climb."
Froman said Guatemala has made some important progress, including hiring over 100 new inspectors and creating a unit to verify employer compliance with court orders.
However, he said that key commitments under the enforcement plan remain outstanding, such as passing legislation that enhances the authority of the Ministry of Labor to impose sanctions when it finds a violation of Guatemala's labour laws and reduces the time it takes to bring labour law violators to justice.
"Even despite our close collaboration with Guatemala's Labor Ministry, the record that Guatemala has presented is insufficient to demonstrate that the changes made have had the desired impact on the ground.
"Our goal in taking action today remains the same as it has always been: to ensure that Guatemala enforces the labour protections to which its workers are entitled. Litigation is a means toward that goal, not an end in itself. And it is our hope that today's action will help encourage those in Guatemala who wish to address these issues to strengthen their efforts."
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