Learning the letter of the law in Nicaragua

When application of the labor law threatened the future of a reputable Granada charity, local volunteers came up with a unique solution

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.

Cashing Out: The volunteers cash their checks (courtesy of La Esperanza)

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.


  • Martin Nelson

    What wonderful kids … and what a great job you are doing for Nicaragua. I had a different problem that also underscores the inflexibility of the Labor Department. I employed a housekeeper three days a week … that, is part time. There is no provision for part time work and MITRAB said I had to pay her a full time weekly salary. That meant I would have to falsify INS reporting to show she was working every day when she wasn’t… and lower her hourly rate to the minimum required. She and I gave up and she left for Costa Rica.

  • John Shepard

    Very hard lesson to all of us who use Nica labor. More unfortunate is the automatic “They were probably just looking for a hefty bribe” that arises in the minds of most readers.

    What did you do differently the second time around to avoid a repeat of the grief?

    Nicaragua: lead floats, corks sink, and no good deed goes unpunished. It’s amazing that so many people still try to make that difference.

  • ells

    What a moving story!! Casi me puso llorar!

  • Erik Jota

    Heroes and angels.

  • Romain Marzouk

    Beautiful story, if Spielberg heard of it he’d probably try and buy rights

  • Raffles

    Terrific story. Hope it gets picked up by other magazines and newspapers to show what Nicaraguan Students are prepared to do to help Nicaragua as a whole. I’m sending this story to everyone I know.

    As an aside, is there anywhere other than the Nicaragua Dispatch where you find out about this kind of thing?

  • http://la-esperanza-granada.org/ Ryan Olson

    Thank you SOOO much to these local volunteers. They are SOOO dedicated to their mission- a fantastic college education and the opportunity to lift the children from their own communities into a life of prosperity! Congratulations!!!! Your friend y su amigo, Ryan

  • Glenn

    Excellent solution and work around to an obviously not good law. These people are to be commended for their dedication to the community.

    Now let us just hope that there is not someone else knocking on the door wanting income tax on the pay.

  • Cecilia Espinoza

    The biggest problem is that not even the MITRAB officers know Nicaraguans laws. Nicaragua since 2005 has a law that regulate the Voluntary work. Here is the link so you can learn more about the rights and obligations of the Organizations and volunteers: http://legislacion.asamblea.gob.ni/Normaweb.nsf/b92aaea87dac762406257265005d21f7/86bd6689f0e27493062570a100585493?OpenDocument

  • http://playaroca.com David Cardin

    Something specific was signed that obligated you to this debacle, what was it? What wording, what was it that they signed in the 1st place?

  • Jim Lynch

    Karma Pauline. You do good things, good things come to you.

  • https://www.facebook.com/jim.bier jim bier

    In the U.S., the IRS would have taken its share of the ‘wages’ as taxes when the bank cashed the check.

  • Carlos Briones

    It is ironic how the neo-bourgeoisie, they know who they are, largely skate around the very laws they enforce against do-gooders as here. The old adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” seems to fill the four corners of this article. Unfortunately, it would take another hundred years to fix the current non-sensical, confusing and contradictory labor laws of the country. I would pay no attention to the charlatans that capriciously attempt to enforce labor laws which clearly do no not contemplate volunteer work. Eventually they give up.