/* ---------- "LABOUR-CENTRAL AMERICA: Union Leade" ---------- */
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

*** 14-Oct-99 ***

LABOUR-CENTRAL AMERICA: Union Leaders Denounce Persecution

By N fer Muxoz

SAN JOSE, Oct 14 (IPS) - Central America's labour movement is the victim of ongoing persecution as well as campaigns to discredit its leaders, say unionists who emphasise that the situation is a reflection of the region's weak democracies.

Workers's rights exist on paper only, agreed delegates representing 18 union organisations from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. The unionists are in San Jose this week for a forum organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Union leaders rejected business community's allegations that they have used their power for self-interests and to obtain special privileges.

''The union movement has not lost credibility - workers are still joining unions to fight for their rights. These accusations are part of a smear campaign against us,'' said Gilberth Brown, leader of Costa Rica's Rerum Novarum Workers Association.

Brown added that trampling on workers' rights and firing workers who join unions are common practices in Central America.

''People must realise that unions are fundamental for guaranteeing democracy in any country,'' Fernando Navarro told IPS. The delegate from Spain's General Union of Workers (UGT) is one of four union leaders from Europe participating in the week- long forum, which ends Friday.

Guatemalan union leader Carlos Mancilla stated that, three years after the government and guerrillas signed peace treaties, repression and harassment against organised workers continues, and in some cases has grown worse.

During Guatemala's 36-year civil war, basic freedoms were limited and unions were often the target of military repression.

Mancilla pointed out that ''three union leaders have been assassinated in the last eight months.''

Union representatives were in agreement that workers' rights are not respected in Central America and that many companies illegally fire their employees if they find out the workers are trying to organise.

An ''underhanded repression'' against unions persists in El Salvador, maintained Carlos Maravilla, delegate from the Democratic Workers Central. He said little progress has been made in the seven years since peace treaties ended El Salvador's 12- year civil war in which unionists were often the victims.

Over recent months, Costa Rican unions have denounced several businesses from the central and Atlantic regions that ''black- list'' workers for attempting to join or organise a union. The employers spread the word that these workers ''should not be hired.''

Jos Mar¡a Zufiaur, a Spanish union leader and current member of the European Union's Economic and Social Committee, emphasised that strengthening unions is essential for the healthy functioning of democracies.

Zufiaur said that one of Latin America's biggest challenges is to overcome the growing disparity between the different social sectors in each country.

The union leaders from Europe affirmed that labour organisations must move beyond their local focus in the new century and become a transnational movement.

''The unions must globalise, because now all spheres are inter- connected,'' stated Jes£s Gonz lez, a delegate from Spain's Labour Commissions.

If the labour movement is globalised, it would be easier for unions to confront transnational corporations with locations in several countries, and it would facilitate handling labour problems that impact workers around the world, said Gonz lez.

Several forum participants called for international agreements that establish minimal labour conditions worldwide so that countries do not engage in ''unbridled competition'' to provide the cheapest workforce in order to attract investors. (END/IPS/tra-so/nms/mp/ld/99)


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