U.S. asks panel to decide Guatemala labour case

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.

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