Fidel Polo Sanchez, a union leader fired for speaking publicly about the egregious conditions of farm workers in Peru, should be reinstated to his job, a judge ruled this week. Sociedad Agrícola Viru, one of Peru’s largest agricultural export plantations, fired Polo July 12, 2012, for “defamation.”
Polo, legal defense secretary for the Agrícola Viru Workers Union, was leading a campaign to change a labor law launched as a “temporary measure” in 2000 to foster the growth of new exports. The law enables employers to offer sub-minimum wages and provide fewer benefits and protections than those provided to other private-sector workers under Peruvian labor law. The law has enabled the plantation to become one of the most profitable companies in Peru’s booming agriculture-for-export sector.
The agricultural export industry employs some 300,000 people, more than 70 percent of whom are women who toil between 12 and 14 hours a day in miserable conditions. These workers are often denied their right to freedom of association through anti-union practices.
On May 15, 2012, Polo appeared on a local television program to talk about the campaign and discuss Agrícola Viru’s failure to provide safe and decent working conditions despite workers’ sacrifices. In response, plantation management alleged that Polo had stated falsehoods about the company, including, “[workers] have to buy their own safety equipment” and “[we work in] in inadequate conditions.”
In fact, the Peruvian Ministry of Labor has repeatedly fined Agrícola Viru over the past three years for failing to provide workers with proper safety equipment, for denying labor inspections and for egregious working conditions.
The company also filed a criminal charge against Polo, and that case is still pending.