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Guatemala City, Guatemala May 12, 2006

The secondary focus in Guatemala City has been to strategize with Guatemalan advocates and government officials to ensure that foreign companies recruiting workers in Guatemala to work abroad comply with the Guatemalan labor code. According to Article 34 of the Guatemalan Labor Code, foreign companies must pay all of the related transportation costs of the Guatemalan workers they recruit to work abroad. This law is violated wholesale and unfortunately the US government is complicit.

According to the US consulate in Guatemala, 4,500 Guatemalans came to work in the USA though the “guestworker” or H2 program. The program is riddled with problems only one of which is the failure of US companies to pay the costs required as stipulated in Guatemalan law.[other problems include chronic underpayment of wages and severe lack of Department of Labor oversight].

Cathleen met with various persons to discuss this serious, and frankly embarrassing, problem of the USA program. The meetings included the Ministry for Labor’s Department of Labor Migration, the Human Rights Omnibudsman Office of Worker Protection, the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, and several private sector labor attorneys. Most of the entities were unaware that the US companies were even recruiting in Guatemala, let alone the flagrant Article 34 violations. As a result of these consultations, Global Workers in collaboration with Alejandro Argueta, a private labor law attorney, is considering holding a conference in Guatemala on this issue. The planning is now underway.

The meetings with officials at the US Embassy were interesting. Although they expressed frustration with the program due to fraud and worker exploitation, they clearly felt they had limited recourses to halt it. The consulate has individual interviews with the workers before issuing the H2 visa. This is a unique moment to ensure that the workers understand their contracts and are provided with information so that they can seek assistance if their employer violates the contract or other rights. There seemed to be some degree of willingness to take steps to reduce the well recognized worker exploitation. Global Workers will provide the consulate with the appropriate materials—on workers’ rights and where to seek assistance both in the USA and in Guatemala—-and encourage the consulate to utilize them to improve the program.

The US government should not foster exploitation of foreign workers. It is simply unacceptable that the guestworker program continues as is.

Next Stop: Chiquimula, Guatemala to locate the Brickman workers.

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