All of us who have lived in Nicaragua for a while have pondered the mysterious ways of the law. Even in our own countries, many of us have been confused by the law or come up against situations where the law is seemingly impossible to comply with.
The Labor Ministry, or MITRAB, is a body hard to fathom for locals and expats alike. La Esperanza Granada was recently dealt a severe blow due to our lack of knowledge of the law. Following a recent labor inspection, we discovered that the document signed by our local volunteers amounted to a contract of employment.
Our local volunteers are young Nicaraguan university students who have sponsors through La Esperanza Granada. They attend university on the weekends, and work alongside our overseas volunteers helping in the schools on weekdays.
These young people come from the same impoverished background as the students in the schools where we work. They are a wonderful role model for the younger children, demonstrating that with education there is hope and a better future. In addition to their university fees, they receive a small stipend monthly to help with their living costs.
They also receive English classes, computer access, dental care, bicycles, training and lots of invaluable work experience.
However none of these benefits were to be taken into account. After a week of pleading, letter-writing, even tears at MITRAB, the law was firm, these young people had to be paid in full their wage, back pay, holiday pay, aguinaldo and termination pay. This would leave La Esperanza Granada with a debt that we could not hope to meet, all because of the wrong wording on a piece of paper. Even when they each personally offered to renounce their rights to this money, MITRAB said that was not an option.
Years of work by more than 1,000 volunteers to build an organization to effectively help children’s education in rural schools and barrios was at risk.
Maybe we could have gone down a long, expensive and stressful road of disputing in the courts. Maybe after a couple of years we could have won our case, but maybe not.
Instead these wonderful young people created another solution to the problem. Each of them received a check with payment-in-full, including all bonuses etc. And then they each went to the bank, cashed their checks and donated the money back to La Esperanza Granada.
Heroes or angels, you decide. For me, I am just honored to work with them.
Pauline Jackson is director of operations for La Esperanza Granada.