In the spring of 2012, as a result of labour violations, a group of 27 workers at the Ternium factory where steel materials are manufactured in Villa Nueva decided to unionize as Ternium International Guatemala Worker’s Unionorganized under the acronym SITRATERNIUM (affiliated with, FESTRAS, Trade Union Federation of Food, Agro-industry and Related Industry Workers of Guatemala & also has special support from STECSA, Coca Cola Worker’s Union, Guatemala.)
This attempt to unionize was met with repressive measures by the employer and these workers were fired. The union workers have continued to fight for their rights under the Guatemalan labour code; they have been successful in the courts. Even the Guatemalan Minister of Labour, Carlos Contreras Solórzano, has denounced the illegal firing of employees and the company’s repressive reaction to unionizing efforts.
Ternium operates three plants in Guatemala—Villa Nueva, Terminal-Zone 9, and Mazatenago. The company has operations in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica as well as locations internationally http://www.terniumcentroamerica/about/default). Ternium is part of an international company, Techint, based in Luxembourg; originally based in Italy. The company has operations in Mexico, Central America and South America.
Ternium has not only violated the Guatemalan labour code, it has violated their employees’ rights to free association, free speech and their right to unionize. Furthermore, Ternium has shown a lack of adherence to Guatemalan and international labour standards.
Therefore, we are calling for an international campaign to pressure the corporation, support the workers, and motivate Ternium to abide by the law and recognize the rights of its workers to be represented by the union.
There have been grave violations of labour rights, poor treatment, discrimination, and privacy abuses. There has been non-payment of promised wages. There has been a lack of compliance with regards to occupational health and safety. At its roots the labour violations are a response to the workers deciding unionize. The company is violating the group’s right to unionize, to free association and to collective bargaining.
After court appearances, firing of employees, ignored court orders, more firing and further harassment, in July, 2012, there was a re-instatement of some fired employees but the company failed to accept mediation and continued to threaten & harass union activists even though SITRATERNIUM is a legal union. The case is currently being appealed because the company asked the court to dismiss the workers’ petition. SITRATERNIUM will pursue the reinstatement of all workers and pressure Ternium to adhere to Guatemala’s labour code.
The Jorge Enrique Torres Association in Guatemala in conjunction with FESTRAS and STECSA supports the rights of the Ternium workers to unionize.
The Jorge Enrique Torres Association was formed to advance the work started by Jorge Enrique Torres. Enrique, as he was known, was a very well known Guatemala labour lawyer. Enrique obtained his law degree from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala and practiced in Guatemala representing various unions and the marginalized. In 1978, he and his wife survived an assassination attempt that was due to their work with the Guatemalan labour movement. Enrique and his family left Guatemala soon after recovering from the injuries sustained in the assassination attempt.
Enrique became a citizen of Canada, and continued his work of building international support for unions in Guatemala, especially the Coca Cola workers’ union, STECSA. In 1997, after the United Nations-brokered peace agreement between the government and the guerilla armies was reached, he returned to Guatemala to practice labour law after an 18 year absence. On February 8, 2012, he died as a result of injuries sustained in an assault. At that time he was deeply involved in negotiating on behalf of the Coca Cola workers.
Enrique fundamentally understood that a respectful negotiation between workers and employers ensures a healthy and balanced economy driven by a healthy middle-class. As a result he had many friends throughout Guatemalan society – in government, business and particularly, of course, in the union movement. Ultimately, Enrique was a negotiator. He knew that compromise was the solution and he was widely respected for that. When he died he and his legal team represented 40 different unions in Guatemala. His team in conjunction with the Jorge Enrique Torres Association continues this work through building on the international network established by Enrique.
Guatemalan workers face a very challenging situation in a system that all too often functions on the basis of intimidation and murder. Unions struggle to achieve their rights within this context. Canadian and other international unions have the capacity to share their networks and connections with their Guatemalan counterparts to help them achieve fair agreements. In some instances Guatemala labour unions need the support of international allies to pressure corporations and the Guatemala government to ensure these collective agreements.
The Jorge Enrique Torres Association builds partnerships between the international labour movement and Guatemala unions with the aim of creating a strong, unified labour movement in Guatemala. The mission of the Jorge Enrique Torres Association is to advance the Guatemalan labour movement, in part, by building these international partnerships.
The Jorge Enrique Torres Association asks you to send the letter below (feel free to personalize) and to ask your friends and co-workers to lend their support to the Ternium workers as well.
Dear Sir, I am writing to express grave concerns about the systematic violations of Guatemalan workers’ rights at Ternium’s Villa Nueva plant in Guatemala City.
We demand that your company:
1.Follow the Guatemalan Labour Code;
2.Follow international labour practices;
3.Reinstate all of the 27 workers who were fired this past spring, with back pay; and
4. Stop interfering with the unionization of the Ternium Villa Nueva Plant and ensure that the union workers face no reprisals for their participation in the union.
These Guatemalan workers have our support and we will continue to monitor this situation until their labour rights are respected. Yours,
We thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. Please send a copy to email@example.com