lunes, 3 de octubre de 2016

Honduras: The Fyffes Transnational Corporation Dictatorship

Melon workers defend the right to organize

by Giorgio Trucchi | Rel-UITA*

The Irish fruit company Fyffes produces melons in southern Honduras through three subsidiaries. On its plantations 80 percent of the labor force is female and temporary. Half of the women are single mothers. The simple fact of workers wanting to exercise their right to organize themselves for decent work conditions has become a nightmare.

In January of this year the Union of Workers in the Agro Industry and Similar Fields (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares-STAS) announced the creation of a union local in one of the three subsidiaries of Fyffes in Honduras, Sur Agrícola de Honduras SA (Suragroh) [1]. It also turned over the list of demands for the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement.

Twenty-four hours had not gone by when the transnational gathered the members of the local union board in a meeting and had them resign from the Union. After a second failed attempt in April, STAS again formed a local, this time in the subsidiary Melon Export SA (Melexsa).

The reaction of the company was even more brutal.

“Before we could announce the formation of the union local the company fired 21 workers, including the leadership who had permanent contracts”, Nelson Núñez, technical advisor for STAS and Festagro[2] told Rel.

“We didn’t accept defeat and we named a new board, at the same time we began to investigate all the violations of labor rights that were occurring”, added Núñez.

After gathering all the proof, 92 workers decided to sue the company in court for not paying them the required accumulated benefits they were due.

An Anti-Union Transnational
Labor rights go down the tubes

As the new melon season approaches in October, there is fear that none of the three subsidiaries of Fyffes will contract people who are linked to the Union.

The STAS local denounces the fact that black lists have been created, “You screwed up with this thing of bringing in a union. You are marked and will never work again”, one of the leaders was recently told by a supervisor.

The national government as well as the municipal government in Santa Ana Yusguare, the townships, and even a local priest support these violations of labor rights. They argue that temporary workers cannot belong to a permanent entity like a union.

For the union STAS this is a crude argument that covers up the true objective of the Irish transnational: to continue accumulating profits a the cost of the sweat of the workers.

The list of violations of labor rights is infinite and those who suffer the most are the women.

“The company takes advantage of the temporary nature of the work to blackmail the workers. The work shifts are exhausting, they don’t pay overtime nor vacation time. Seniority is not accumulated nor are social security benefits”, explained Tomás Membreño, president of STAS.

There are women with 25 or more years working in the melon industry or that are already at retirement age who continue to work. They know that they will never receive their benefits or a pension.

“Others were fired for being pregnant or for having been injured while working. Very few will complain about the situation because they are afraid of reprisals against their family members who also work in the melon industry”, added Membreño.

There are also bad hygienic and security conditions. In December 2015, one hundred women were poisoned by a combination of herbicides and bleach being applied in a nearby field.

Threats and persecution
Is Fyffes an ethical company? What do you think?

The struggle to organize has also resulted in serious security problems.

On more than one occasion the leaders of the union subsection have been harassed by members of the company’s private security forces to pressure them to leave the union.

Last week, Nelson Núñez himself was threatened with death. “They left an anonymous note in the Festagro office in Choluteca telling me to stop organizing unions or suffer the consequences”, Núñez told Rel.

Despite the difficult situation, the workers are ready to keep fighting for Fyffes to comply with the law.

“They are firm, the workers know that is the only way to break with a past where there are no rights”, concluded Núñez.

Various international organizations including UITA, are preparing a campaign to denounce the conditions and will soon visit the zone; they already have officially requested that Fyffes be expelled from the Initiative for Ethical Commerce (IEC).

[1] Melon Export SA (Melexsa), Sur Agrícola de Honduras SA (Suragroh) y Soleado SA (Solesa), ubicadas en Santa Ana Yusguare y El Corpus, Choluteca.
[2] Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria.

Source Rel-Uita:

*Latin American Region - International Union of Workers in Alimentation, Agriculture, Hotels, Restaurants, Tobacco and Related Areas
Regional America Latina - Unión Internacional de Trabajadores de la Alimentación, Agrícolas, Hoteles, Restaurantes, Tabaco y Afines.

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