The Labor Department on Monday signed cooperation agreements with Ecuador, Honduras, Peru and The Philippines to make known and protect the labor rights of immigrants from those countries who are working in the United States.

The agreements "protect every person who works here, independently of their immigration status," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told Efe after signing the accords with the countries' respective ambassadors.

Starting now, there will be more government information campaigns mounted to explain what rights employees have and the consulates will become offices that will provide advice to citizens of those countries about problems in the workplace.

The basic element of the accords, Solis said, is confidentiality. "All the information that comes to us is confidential and we're not going to share that information with the other federal agencies."

"We have bilingual people, who speak Spanish, to provide information about these rights and we have investigators who can handle these complaints," she said.

Ecuadorian Ambassador to Washington Nathalie Cely said she believes that the bilateral accord she signed will allow "bearing witness to cases of injustice among the workers, because the Ecuadorian knows that, when he is in the consulate, he's on his territory and has his (rights) protected."

"In the past, there was a lot of fear, especially among immigrants in an irregular situation. It's created a lot of injustice and labor exploitation and we must call it by that name," the ambassador said.

Peru's envoy, Harold Forsyth, told Efe that up to now Peruvian workers have only been able to "badly defend their rights if they don't know the rights provided to them by law."

Forsyth said that the accord contributes to spreading knowledge of workers' rights, but also to "the active training of the general consulates in the country so that they are in better condition to aid their countrymen in labor terms."

The Honduran ambassador, Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro, said that the great advance with the signing of the accords is that "the U.S. and Honduran governments are together ... in protecting the dignity of Honduran workers here."

Immigrant workers will be able to learn in detail about things such as salaries, medical protection, visas, agricultural labor, the rights of young people and the fact that lie detectors are prohibited, among other things.

The agreements are similar to those reached earlier between the Labor Department and Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, and it is expected that new accords will be signed with still more embassies. EFE