Guatemala, Guatemala - November 6

Meeting with Ministry of Labor

Accompanied by Miriam Ramirez of Defender G&C Consultores, Cathleen met with the Guatemalan Ministry of Labor.  Three temporary foreign worker programs recruit Guatemalans: Canada, USA, and Mexico.  While the Mexico program is perhaps the most regulated on paper - there is an agreement between governments - it seems that the highest number of abuses occur in this program. The Canada program has good protections but the discriminatory hiring practices are rampant and the Canadian government distances itself to an alarming degree of the problems in the sending countries. The USA program is the most clandestine of all, many governments in the region do not even realize that the USA recruits at all, when the program has been operating for more than twenty years.  

The meeting focused on the Canadian program because the Guatemalan government plays a larger role in the recruitment process. It is key to work with the governments on-site. If they take steps to regulate Canadian recruitment, all gains will be equally applied to the USA program. There are two recruiters to Canada.  The International Organization of Migration (IOM) program started in 2005 and reached almost 5,000 workers a year at its peak (2009).  The director of IOM left in 2010 and opened a competing recruitment agency, Amigo Laboral.  Amigo Laboral maintains a very low profile. No ones how many workers are recruited, from where, or what the recruitment agency charges for its services.  Until a few weeks ago, we did not even know where the office was.  For the past year and half, the Guatemalan government has refused to sign an agreement to allow Amigo Laboral to operate in the country due to concerns about worker rights. Global Workers, in collaboration with the United Food and Commercial Workers in Canada, has been supporting the Guatemalan government in the process.  It seems, however, that Amigo Laboral continues to recruit and send workers to Canada regardless.  The IOM program is more transparent, the foreign ministry for example accompanies the recruitment trips.  Despite this, many of the same problems continue (see past blogs) and whistle blower Jose Sicajau is still not reinstated. After the February 2012 IOM meeting, we doubt he ever will be due to discriminatory hiring practices.

The Guatemala government is in the process of developing more detailed recruitment regulations. Global Workers will continue to offer support and provide guidance in order to protect Guatemalan workers. Considering the political landscape in Canada and the USA, it is almost certain that temporary foreign worker programs will expand. It is urgent that we build up protections before this happens. Expanding a flawed program spells disasters for law-abiding USA businesses and workers alike.

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