On November 8, 2018, the Governing Body of the International Law Organization (ILO) decided to close the case of a labor complaint filed in 2012 against Guatemala for the alleged breach of C087 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.
The complaint was filed by several workers’ delegates in the 101 meeting of the ILO. The complainants argued that since 1989 the Committee of Experts on the Applications of Convention and Recommendations (CEACR) of the ILO had made multiple observations regarding Guatemala’s compliance with the C087.
The complainants highlighted that the CEACR had pointed out 19 occasions of concern about union rights violations ranging from assassinations and death threats aimed at union leaders, to the imposition of sanctions, anti-union dismissals, and the refusal to perform collective bargaining.
The complaint requested the formation a Commission of Inquiry in the country. A Commission of Inquiry is formed by three independent members, who are given responsibility for carrying out a wide investigation of the merits of the complaint. Based on the results of their investigation, the Commission is entitled to make recommendations on measures to be taken to address the issues raised by the complaint.
According to article 33 of the ILO Constitution, if a country refuses to fulfil the recommendations made by a Commission of Inquiry, the Governing Body can take action and impose sanctions.
Some commentators believe that the imposition of any measure applied by the ILO Conference against Guatemala could have had negative implications for the country in matters of international commerce and foreign investment.
During the last week of September 2018, the ILO established a tripartite mission that visited Guatemala and noted the significant contribution of the National Tripartite Committee on Labor Relations.
Some improvements on this matter included that the special unit for offences committed against trade unionists has been strengthened, with the annual cost of the unit rising from 868,216 Guatemalan quetzales (GTQ) in 2011 to GTQ 4,178,537 in 2017, and that the investigations conducted by the special unit increased from 1,386 in 2012 to 5,672 in 2017.
The ILO mission also confirmed that there was an agreement among social actors to move forward with legislative amendments that would allow the country to comply with the provisions of all the ILO Conventions, including C087.
It was based on this evidence that the ILO Governing Body decided to close the procedure.
Despite closing the complaint, the ILO Governing Body agreed on implementing a technical assistance program to achieve sustainability of the current process of social dialogue and asked the international community to contribute with the necessary resources to make this program effective.
The ILO also identified some priority issues that still require “urgent action” including: (i) the reinstatement of workers who were victims of anti-union dismissals, and (ii) the expansion of an awareness-raising campaign on freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The final closing of the procedure against Guatemala reflects a vote of confidence in the country by the ILO Governing Body, which has confirmed improvements in the area of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.
It is also an opportunity for the different actors (government, employers’ delegates, and employees’ delegates), to keep working together in order to strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in Guatemala.
Written by Gabriel Bran of Carrillo & Asociados and Roger James of Ogletree Deakins
© 2019 Carrillo & Asociados and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, P.C.