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Guatemala: The Establishment of the First Union in Palm Oil

A Milestone Achievement

A groundbreaking development allowed Guatemalan palm oil workers to achieve a significant milestone: A union has been established for the first time ever in the industry. This marks a pivotal moment not only for the workers directly involved, but for the entire industry. For years, workers in Guatemala's palm oil sector have faced immense challenges, from precarious working conditions to limited rights. The establishment of the SITRAREPSA union within in the palm oil company REPSA represents a beacon of hope, signalling a shift towards fairer labour practices and greater respect for workers' rights.

Far From Easy

“The journey to create this union has been far from easy,” says Cesáreo Tiul, General Secretary of the new union. “It has required tireless dedication and unwavering courage from the workers, as well as support from civil society organisation CONDEG and CNV Internationaal. Despite considerable resistance and pushbacks, the determination of these workers has prevailed. At the end of 2023, all of the necessary documents were prepared for official registration. Finally, February 19th, 2024, we were able to submit them to Guatemala's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, officially establishing the SITRAREPSA union.”

The Significance of the Union

The significance of this union within the palm oil sector cannot be overstated. Trade unions are the voice of the workers, providing a powerful mechanism for collective bargaining and social dialogue. Most RESPA workers only speak Queqch and are not highly educated. Through unions, these workers can address grievances, negotiate fair wages, and ensure safe working conditions. Without unions, workers are often left vulnerable and voiceless, subject to exploitation and mistreatment. SITRAREPSA is committed to championing the rights and wellbeing of its members, advocating positive change.

Guatemala first union palm oil worker rights

Looking Ahead

The establishment of SITRAREPSA is just the beginning. This union sets a precedent for the industry, demonstrating that workers' rights cannot be ignored. By complying with international standards and embracing freedom of association, companies like REPSA are paving the way for a more sustainable and equitable future. The hope is that other companies will follow suit, prioritizing the wellbeing of their workers and fostering a culture of respect and dignity within the palm oil sector.

International Standards

Establishing the union means the company is now in compliance with the standards and guidelines set up by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and RSPO regarding freedom of association. These organisations stipulate the fundamental rights for workers to organise and to be represented so they can advocate for their interests together. 

 “It has required tireless dedication and unwavering courage from the workers, as well as support from civil society organisation CONDEG and CNV Internationaal."

The Situation in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. About 80% of the population lives in poverty. Most working people have neither a contract nor any right to social security. After 36 years of civil war, Guatemala has now been a democracy for 25 years, and one which officially recognises freedom of association. However, in reality, it remains nearly impossible to be a member of the workers movement. Trade union members face countless challenges and threats. As a result, only 0.2% of workers actually dare to join a union

Publication date 28 05 2024