Trade and Labor Rights
Congressional concerns about recent trade agreements have centered largely on the agreements' lack of clauses protecting labor rights. Labor conditions in Central and South America have been, and continue to be precarious due to increased labor flexibilization, an informal labor sector of more than 80 percent, and daily minimum wages ranging from one to five dollars. In addition, the rights to organize and freedom of association in Latin America are routinely violated. In Colombia, at least 55 union members were assassinated in 2006, bringing the total of labor organizers assassinated in the last 12 years to well over 2000. On January 15, 2007, Guatemala labor leader Pedro Zamora was brutally assassinated in front of his children. His dock workers union, STEPQ, was in the process of negotiating with the Quetzal Port authorities.
The labor language in current trade agreements only requires countries to enforce their own laws, many of which do not comply with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. Labor chapters do not require countries to improve domestic laws or even enforce existing ones. A more effective approach would be to include incentives for labor protection within trade agreements, linking enforcement of worker rights to increased market access for Latin American goods.
WOLA works to educate policy makers on the reality of labor rights in Latin America and argues for tighter language in labor clauses. In addition, WOLA is monitoring labor rights in the DR-CAFTA countries within the context of US-financed implementation of recommendations regarding improvements to the DR-CAFTA country labor laws and related institutions. Known as the White Book, the recommendations were authored by trade and labor ministers from the signatory countries.