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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
Nicaragua & Guatemala Migrant Workers Rights Signing Ceremony
DOL Great Hall,
Washington, D.C.,
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Buenos dias.

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Department of Labor for this important event. I am so glad to be joined today by Ambassador Villagrán of Guatemala and Ambassador Campbell of Nicaragua.

Bienvenidos y muchisimas gracias por estar aqui.

I'm also pleased to have with us two of my dedicated agency heads at the Department of Labor. Assistant Secretary David Michaels directs our worker safety efforts as the head of OSHA. And Nancy Lippick heads up our Wage & Hour Division to ensure workers are paid what they're legally owed.

We're here today to strengthen our countries' shared commitment to protect the labor rights of migrant workers in the United States. Workers from Nicaragua and Guatemala are an important part of the American labor force. They work in hard-to-fill occupations, many of which are low-paying and difficult jobs in sectors like construction, agriculture and the service industry. They also pay taxes, rent and receive few government services.

We are grateful for their contributions to our economy. Muchisimas gracias por su apoyo. Lo agradecemos mucho.

At the Department of Labor, we are committed to ensuring they're safe on the job and fully and fairly compensated for their hard work. Unfortunately, due to language barriers and immigration status, migrant workers can be vulnerable to abuse. When they are made to work in unsafe conditions — or not paid the wages they're owed — it has a ripple effect across our whole economy.

Labor law violations create downward pressures on the wages and working conditions of all workers. That's why it's important that we take steps to level the playing field. It's the right thing to do for our economy — and it's consistent with our core American values.

Most American businesses follow the law, but we know that a few bad actors can gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. I'm proud to serve in an administration that's committed to enforcing our labor laws for every worker in this country.

Last year, I traveled to Central America and met with ambassadors from a number of Central American and Caribbean nations. We began a dialogue about how we can partner together to protect the rights of workers in Central America and North America.

In Nicaragua, where my mother grew up, I had the opportunity to meet with President Ortega. We discussed our shared commitment to addressing poverty and protecting the rights of children. During that visit, we made concrete progress in our shared commitment to fight child labor. We announced Nicaragua's participation in our Better Work program to support good labor practices in the country's export textile industry, which employs so many Nicaraguan families.

We continue to advance our important bilateral relationship with this announcement. Today, we formalize new partnerships with the Embassy of Guatemala and the Embassy of Nicaragua to protect migrant workers in the United States. They will help us communicate with workers who we might not otherwise be able to reach.

No matter how they came to this country, these workers have certain rights. They have the right to safe, clean working conditions, and they have the right to get paid the full wages they are owed. This means no less than $7.25 an hour — the federal minimum wage.

We understand that many migrant workers are afraid to report mistreatment because it can lead to more abuse or the loss of their job. That's why we are partnering with the institutions where they're most likely to go for help — their own country's consulates.

We will work with the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan consulates to identify vulnerable workers and get them the education, information and training they need to protect themselves. We will also offer training to employers who utilize migrant workers, so they understand their legal obligations.

The consulates will help spread the word about the Labor Department's toll-free hotlines, where workers can report safety and wage violations. These calls are free and confidential. Workers can call the hotline, day or night, and speak to advocates in either Spanish or English and report violations or safety concerns.

We signed similar partnerships with the Mexican and Salvadoran embassies. Today, we continue this effort by signing Joint Declarations with the governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua. We will also sign Letters of Arrangement between OSHA, the Wage and Hour Division and the two embassies. These Letters provide the structure for the day to day operations of the partnership.

Ambassadors, I look forward to working together in the months and years ahead.

Ambassador Villagrán, if you would like to make some remarks first, followed by Ambassador Campbell.