Monday, January 19, 2009

Law and injustice

I heard a sad story tonight about some vigilantes (guards) who hadn't been paid in three months because the woman who owned the guard service was in financial trouble. They've been showing up to work faithfully, hoping that something would work out, because it seems that even a job with three months' arrears in pay is better than no job here in El Salvador.

There are laws that require employers to pay their employees, and to pay social security, and to give their employees health coverage, and to give their employees an extra month's pay as a bonus in December. From what I can tell, El Salvador's laws in this and other areas are excellent. But they aren't enforced, and so they aren't followed. An employer who's reported to the the equivalent of the Labor Department might get a slap-on-the-wrist fine - I heard $50 was the likely sum - with no followup to see if the mistreatment of employees had stopped. This kind of law is like a pretty poster covering an ugly hole.

I'm reminded of the words of the English renaissance poet, Samuel Daniel, in an Epistle to the Lord Chief Justice of England (which I'm remembering by heart, probably not entirely accurately):

....even injustice may be regular
And no conjunction can there be betwixt
Our actions which in endless motion are
And the ordinances which are ever fixed.
Ten thousand laws more cannot go so far
But malice lives within and is enmixt
So close with justice that it ever will
Confine, confound and counterfeit her still.

Regular injustice seems to be a hallmark of life here.

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