Health, Safety and Dignity in the Workplace

The Guatemalan labour market, like international trade, is constantly changing. The Guatemalan economy is relatively modest in comparison to that of the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and so on. Guatemala is clearly following the current trend towards globalization.

Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic. A legal framework for workers’ rights is enshrined in the Guatemalan labour code and, more generally, in the Guatemalan constitution. Labour legislation is not implemented consistently. A certain lack of government oversight gives local employers free rein.

According to the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Services, the minimum wage in Guatemala in 2016 is between 75 and 82 quetzal ($10-11) a day,1 depending on the type of work. For example, manufacturing workers have a lower minimum wage than agricultural workers.

The labour legislation framework affords workers certain rights and protections. The maximum working day is eight hours and the work week is 44 hours. The overtime premium is 50%. All workers are also entitled to two weeks of holiday per year, after working for one year for the same employer. In addition, employers are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace, including, for example, access to washrooms and first aid equipment.

While these conditions may appear relatively good, inconsistent enforcement of labour legislation means that they are not always met. Because the Guatemalan economy is relatively small, the government is interested in encouraging and maintaining foreign investment. In the late 1980s, it launched a tax incentive program for foreign companies setting up in Guatemala. Enhanced tax cuts were introduced for companies producing goods for export.

An immediate consequence of these measures was a huge influx of maquilas, or sweatshops, where workers’ rights are rarely respected and working conditions are extremely poor. Because Guatemala must contend with global competition, there is some reluctance to enforce its labour legislation to avoid scaring off foreign investment. In this new scenario, Guatemalan workers are the big losers.

These workers regularly endure far from exemplary working conditions. For instance, workdays routinely exceed 12 hours, workers do not have access to adequate protective equipment, washrooms are often locked, wages are often held back for weeks or even months, and so on. Workers are obliged to accept these conditions because work is scarce in Guatemala and they cannot afford to do without their livelihood.

2016

           1. Guatemala’s Ministry of Labour: www.mintrabajo.gob.gt/index.php/salariominimo.html