Tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civil servants who claim they’ve been wrongfully terminated by the leftist Sandinista government are appealing for help from the US Department of Labor.
Alvaro Leiva, the lawyer representing the group, claims that nearly 20 percent of Nicaragua’s entire public-sector workforce has been fired “illegally for political reasons” since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007 under President Daniel Ortega.
Workers here claim that in addition to the mass layoffs of civil servants deemed disloyal to the ruling party, the government has implemented a system wherein job applicants are usually asked for a letter of recommendation from their neighborhood Sandinista Council of Citizen Power and a membership card for the National Workers’ Front, the official Sandinista union.
It may be wishful thinking — not to mention a touchy political issue in a country with a history of US interventionism — but the 23,439 former state employees and their federation of unions hope to find justice in the Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
CAFTA, which entered into force in 2006, has been particularly good for the Nicaraguan economy, boosting exports to the US by 75 percent, attracting millions of dollars in foreign-direct investment, and creating tens of thousands of jobs. But Leiva alleges that the Ortega government has abused its own labor laws in the process, violating Nicaragua's contractual obligations under CAFTA and a dozen other international labor conventions.
In a complaint due to be filed on Thursday, Leiva charges that the Nicaraguan government itself is an abusive employer, and is asking the Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) to pressure Ortega’s administration to rehire and/or pay restitution to the fired civil servants.
The problem of labor abuses against middle-class professionals is not new in Latin America; it occurs every time there is a change in government. Unlike the working poor, who risk losing their factory jobs when the economy dips, Latin America’s pinched middle class — much of which is employed in the public sector— risk losing their jobs every time there’s an election.