|M. Carmen Erazo | Photo STAS|
Fyffes’ anti-union practices subject to close scrutiny
By Giorgio Trucchi | Rel-UITA
Melon plantations in southern Honduras –owned by the Irish transnational fruit producing company Fyffes- employ mostly women workers who are subjected to temporary contracts and whose labor rights are permanently violated.
María del Carmen Erazo (47) is a single mother of four daughter who has earned her living at the Fyffes melon plantations for the past decade. The two elder siblings, aged 24 and 22, work alongside their mother at the plantations.
The odds are that none of them will be hired for the upcoming harvest starting in October. Their only “crime” for such decision was that they have organized a union to demand that Melon Export SA (Melexsa), one of Fyffes’ three subsidiaries, abide by the applicable laws and, as a consequence, respect the rights they are entitled to as employees.
Last April, María del Carmen was fired, along with 21 other members of a branch of the Workers’ Union of the Agroindustry and Related Sectors (“Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares” -STAS), in flagrant contempt of their employment contracts.
“A supervisor came to inform us that the whole team of workers was dismissed. He said, ‘This is what happens when you start organizing unions, and that’s something you can’t do here.´ It was a shameful abuse of our rights,” said Erazo.
Lengthy work hours
Low wages and no rights
Working hours are endless, almost from dusk to dawn. And once they are back home, the women who work at the plantations are faced with all their housework, so they almost never stop.
“I had to get up as early as 4:30AM to walk from my house to the plantation because the company never supplied us with transportation to get there. Our duties commenced at 6AM and we worked until 3 or 4 PM.
And by the time I got back home, it was already dark again,” María del Carmen recalled during her talk with La Rel.
Salaries were low and never adjusted, so you never have guarantees for an honorable quality of life.
Our pay was lower than the minimum wage, and contributions to the social security system were never made in our names.
We were not eligible for social security benefits, and seniority was not acknowledged. We never received payment for overtime hours, and were never entitled to holidays.
It was common for us to go to work even ill, because we cannot afford to lose a day’s pay,” added the worker.
Her sister was fired for the simple reason of being pregnant. These hateful procedures are common practice at Fyffes’ melon plantations.
“Her boss arrived and said to her that she could not continue working because the company could not take care of pregnant women. And that happened to many other fellow workers, who were dismissed when their pregnancies started to show, and that was the end of the story,” explained Erazo.
Could they get away with this in Ireland?
The probabilities for María del Carmen -as well as for her own daughters and the rest of the population of the little villages La Permuta and Los Chagüites- to be hired for the next harvest are very low.
“We know that our names are part of a black list that is circulating at Fyffes’ plantations, and we also know that they will never hire us again.
Additionally, Melexsa is already spreading the word that they will be ceasing operations because of us, and as a result of that lie we are now facing many problems,” she emphasized.
“We are suffering their harassment, as they blame our decision to organize a union for the company’s possible bankruptcy. But that is not the case, all we want is for the law to be applied and for our rights to be observed,” added Erazo.
A group of 92 workers have filed a demand against the company, where they claim that their corresponding salaries and benefits be settled and paid up. María del Carmen Erazo is one of the plaintiffs in this case that has been taken to court.
“Getting organized into the STAS was the right thing to do. I am convinced that we will make it,” she concluded.
 “Melon Export SA” (Melexsa), “Sur Agrícola de Honduras SA” (Suragroh) and “Soleado SA” (Solesa), located in Santa Ana Yusguare and El Corpus, Choluteca.
“The company never provided us with transportation. Our pay was lower than the minimum wage, and contributions to the social security system were never made in our names.