South America Trade Unions

by | August 19, 2020


According to, there are 12 countries in South America. The legislation guarantees the right of all employees to form and join trade unions and the right to collective bargaining. However, the union’s activities are opposed by the state, which puts negotiations out of play in the public sector, while illegal dismissals in the private sector are rarely punished. About a third of the workers are in the union. The majority of these are found in the public sector and state-owned enterprises. Public employees in so-called key sectors have the right to strike if they have applied to the Ministry of Labor and if a group of workers remains on duty to handle the most urgent matters.



The trade union movement is weak, even though just over a fifth of the labor force is organized. The two largest central organizations are the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).


Paraguay is one of 12 countries in South America. Current labor legislation guarantees strike and organizational rights also for public employees. It takes 300 workers to form a union and all unions must be registered with the Ministry of Justice and Labor in a very cumbersome procedure. Employees can organize themselves either by company or by industry.

Collective conflicts must be handed over to compulsory mediation. The mediation body consists of representatives of the state, employers and employees. The employee representatives are appointed by the government, following proposals from the trade unions.

A minimum of activity must be guaranteed in the event of strikes in “indispensable” public activities. About half of the workforce lacks the opportunity to organize as they are active in the informal sector, where child labor is also very common.



The trade union movement was banned for a long time and has a short tradition in Paraguay and about 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. There are two central organizations of which the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores-Auténtica (CUT-A) is the largest while the Central Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT) is smaller, both are members of the world union ITUC.


Following the fall of Fujimori, the restrictions on trade union rights have been lifted. But freedom of association, the right to organize and collective bargaining continue to be violated through harassment of organized workers and selective dismissals. Many foreign companies refuse to conduct collective bargaining and continue to dismiss trade unionists.

The constitution guarantees freedom of association and gives employees in both the public and private sectors the right to bargain collectively and to strike. It takes ten people to form a union that is workplace-based. But the right to organize and collective bargaining continues to be violated through harassment of organized workers and selective dismissals.



The trade union movement grew strong during the 1970’s but has always had severe problems with internal division. New legislation has lifted the severe trade union restrictions imposed by Fujimori. However, major problems still remain with harassment and dismissal of union members.

The largest trade union organization CGTP (Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú) has traditionally been close to the Communist Party and affiliated with the WFTU. The other two central organizations, the Central Autónoma de Trabajadores del Perú (CATP) and the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Perú (CUT), are both members of the ITUC.


Trade union rights are respected more than in most of its neighboring countries. Workers enjoy the right to strike, however, this right excludes many occupations that are considered socially necessary, including parts of healthcare.



Union work has a long tradition in Uruguay. In 1886, the first workers’ congress was held and the unions developed early into an important political power factor. For a long time, almost half of the working population was unionized. But the dictatorship and internal political strife have significantly reduced the rate of accession.
The national organization PIT-CNT (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores – Convencíon Nacional de Trabajo) brings together the majority of trade unions and organizes about 80 percent of employees in the public sector and five percent in the private sector.


Labor law promotes freedom of association for all employees with the exception of members of the armed forces. However, millions of employees lack the opportunity to conduct collective bargaining and the political differences have led to a very precarious situation in the labor market. The Ministry of Labor favors pro-government unions.
Violence against trade union leaders has increased in recent years, but is in most cases about internal agreements between corrupt unions that buy and sell contracts to large workplaces in order to offer their members jobs.



The constitution reformed by Chavez prescribes union elections at the end of each term, that union leaders’ mandates cannot be extended and that elections must take place in general, direct and secret ballots. This is perceived as an obvious interference in internal trade union issues and the ILO has for several years demanded that the government guarantee the autonomy of the trade unions.
The government refuses to recognize the historically largest central organization CTV as a representative of the country’s unions and instead negotiates with pro-government newly formed unions. There are two central organizations that are members of the world union ITUC: Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) and Alianza Sindical Independiente (ASI).