WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The United States said yesterday it was requesting a dispute settlement panel to hear its year-old complaint that Guatemala has failed to protect workers’ rights as required under a free-trade agreement.
“While Guatemala has taken some positive steps, its overall actions and proposals to date have been insufficient to address the apparent systemic failures,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.
U.S. and Guatemalan labor leaders praised the action taken under the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA-DR.
“Today’s announcement is an important milestone in the effort to enforce the obligations made in trade agreements and protect the rights of workers in the U.S. and overseas,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, the largest U.S. labor group.
Adolfo Lacs, the general secretary of the Guatemalan Workers Union, told Reuters working conditions in Guatemala were “a complete disaster” and “if workers rebel or speak out or file a complaint they take away their jobs.”
He said Guatemala had promised to add 100 labor inspectors, combat child labor, guarantee the right to assemble and collective bargaining and ensure overtime pay for workers who work more than eight hours a day.
Many work 12 hours a day, with conditions in key export sectors like coffee, sugar and textiles the worst, Lacs said.