Global Groups Fear Safety of Honduran Union Leader

Global Groups Fear Safety of Honduran Union Leader

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras are urging the government to drop all charges against Moisés Sánchez, safeguard his protection as a human rights defender under threat, and ensure he can freely exercise his union activities without violence or reprisal.

Sánchez, secretary general of the melon export branch of the Honduran agricultural workers’ union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS), is on trial January 22 for criminal charges without the right to appeal. He is charged with four counts related to “usurpation” for his community’s construction of an access road and faces a possible 30-year prison sentence.

In the southern community of La Permuta, 450 community members voted in 2018 to build a road allowing residents regular access to nearby towns after government officials documented that the land was publicly owned. Previously, La Permuta residents were unable to cross rivers during heavy rains to Choluteca, where many work in the melon fields.

More than a year after the road was built, a land owner claimed the land as her property and pressed criminal charges. Five elected community leaders have been charged. Sánchez is the only grassroots community member not part of the elected leadership who was charged for the road construction. The Network believes Sánchez is being targeted for his role in seeking decent wages and working conditions for agricultural workers, moves often violently opposed by their multinational employers. The Network fears he would face violence and possible death if imprisoned.

In 2017, Sánchez and his brother, union member Misael Sánchez, were attacked by six men wielding machetes as they left the union office in Choluteca. The company later fired him in what union leaders say is retaliation for his efforts to improve working conditions through a union. Sánchez is among those listed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as requiring protection from the Honduran government, and as a documented victim of anti-union violence, the Network says that the state has an obligation to protect human rights defenders and should not permit these attacks on their lives and liberty.

Violence Against Union Leaders Frequent Yet Unpunished

The Network’s most recent report on union violence, released in August, finds agricultural worker activists represented three quarters of the victims of anti-union violence in Honduras between February 2018 and February 2019. Yet according to the Network, no arrests were made in 60 cases of anti-union violence in the past three years.

Melon workers on plantations across the Choluteca region have long endured worker rights abuses. After they sought to improve their working conditions by forming unions in 2016 with STAS, a FESTAGRO affiliate, employers intimidated and illegally fired many workers, despite Honduran law and international conventions making it illegal to retaliate against workers for organizing unions to protect their rights on the job.

The ILO held back-to-back hearings at the International Labor Conferences (ILC) in 2018 and 2019 on Honduras’s failure to abide by its international commitments. The ILC report in 2018, which expressed “deep concern at the large number of anti-union crimes, including many murders and death threats, committed since 2010,” urged the Honduran government to protect vulnerable unionists, investigate more than a decade of unsolved murders of union leaders and prosecute those responsible for the crimes.

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations filed a complaint under the labor chapter of Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, alleges the Honduran government failed to enforce worker rights under its labor laws. In an October 2018 report, the U.S. Trade and Labor Affairs office said Honduras had made no progress on any of the emblematic cases since 2012.

Global Groups Fear Safety of Honduran Union Leader

Global Groups Fear Safety of Honduran Union Leader

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras are urging the government to drop all charges against Moisés Sánchez, safeguard his protection as a human rights defender under threat, and ensure he can freely exercise his union activities without violence or reprisal.

Sánchez, secretary general of the melon export branch of the Honduran agricultural workers’ union, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS), is on trial January 22 for criminal charges without the right to appeal. He is charged with four counts related to “usurpation” for his community’s construction of an access road and faces a possible 30-year prison sentence.

In the southern community of La Permuta, 450 community members voted in 2018 to build a road allowing residents regular access to nearby towns after government officials documented that the land was publicly owned. Previously, La Permuta residents were unable to cross rivers during heavy rains to Choluteca, where many work in the melon fields.

More than a year after the road was built, a land owner claimed the land as her property and pressed criminal charges. Five elected community leaders have been charged. Sánchez is the only grassroots community member not part of the elected leadership who was charged for the road construction. The Network believes Sánchez is being targeted for his role in seeking decent wages and working conditions for agricultural workers, moves often violently opposed by their multinational employers. The Network fears he would face violence and possible death if imprisoned.

In 2017, Sánchez and his brother, union member Misael Sánchez, were attacked by six men wielding machetes as they left the union office in Choluteca. The company later fired him in what union leaders say is retaliation for his efforts to improve working conditions through a union. Sánchez is among those listed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as requiring protection from the Honduran government, and as a documented victim of anti-union violence, the Network says that the state has an obligation to protect human rights defenders and should not permit these attacks on their lives and liberty.

Violence Against Union Leaders Frequent Yet Unpunished

The Network’s most recent report on union violence, released in August, finds agricultural worker activists represented three quarters of the victims of anti-union violence in Honduras between February 2018 and February 2019. Yet according to the Network, no arrests were made in 60 cases of anti-union violence in the past three years.

Melon workers on plantations across the Choluteca region have long endured worker rights abuses. After they sought to improve their working conditions by forming unions in 2016 with STAS, a FESTAGRO affiliate, employers intimidated and illegally fired many workers, despite Honduran law and international conventions making it illegal to retaliate against workers for organizing unions to protect their rights on the job.

The ILO held back-to-back hearings at the International Labor Conferences (ILC) in 2018 and 2019 on Honduras’s failure to abide by its international commitments. The ILC report in 2018, which expressed “deep concern at the large number of anti-union crimes, including many murders and death threats, committed since 2010,” urged the Honduran government to protect vulnerable unionists, investigate more than a decade of unsolved murders of union leaders and prosecute those responsible for the crimes.

In 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations filed a complaint under the labor chapter of Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, alleges the Honduran government failed to enforce worker rights under its labor laws. In an October 2018 report, the U.S. Trade and Labor Affairs office said Honduras had made no progress on any of the emblematic cases since 2012.

Solidarity Center Mourns the Loss of Victor Quesada

Solidarity Center Mourns the Loss of Victor Quesada

The Solidarity Center is mourning the loss of Victor Hugo Quesada Arce, Solidarity Center project coordinator in Costa Rica, who died July 16 after a battle with cancer.

Solidarity Center, Costa Rica, ICTOR HUGO QUESADA ARCE.“Victor was always a dedicated, passionate and joyful person,” says Stephen Wishart, Solidarity Center director for Central America. “He helped give workers courage, armed them with knowledge, and helped them rely on each other and this global labor movement we are all part of to build better realities for themselves and their families.”

In his 30 years of strengthening unions and educating workers about their rights, Victor worked side by side with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in the region. He helped revitalize plantation worker unions which primarily represent migrant workers in Costa Rica and which had been decimated by decades of anti-union assaults.

Victor came to the Solidarity Center five years ago as a worker rights advocate well-known across the region, and agriculture unions from throughout Central America have been sending tributes and an outpouring of appreciation for his many years of solidarity and support.

“We stand in solidarity and send hugs to friends, relatives of our brother Victor,” writes FESTAGRO, the agriculture union in Honduras. “People like you are one of a kind, and are always remembered.”

Nearly 1,000 Agriculture Workers in Morocco Celebrate First Bargaining Pact

Nearly 1,000 Agriculture Workers in Morocco Celebrate First Bargaining Pact

Agricultural workers in Meknes, Morocco, now have a first-ever collective bargaining agreement. Credit: Hind Cherrouk/Solidarity Center

Agricultural workers in Meknes, Morocco, now have a first-ever collective bargaining agreement. Credit: Hind Cherrouk/Solidarity Center

The Confédération Démocratique du Travail (Democratic Labor Confederation, CDT) and the agro-industry employer, Les Domaines Brahim Zniber, signed a collective bargaining agreement today that covers nearly 1,000 agricultural workers on five large farms in Morocco’s fertile Meknes region. The pact follows a multi-year campaign by the CDT, with support from the Solidarity Center, to help workers in orchards, olive groves and vineyards improve their working conditions.

Under the agreement, agricultural workers receive bonuses if their work exceeds the norm. The agro-industry employer will provide safety equipment and social benefits, enabling workers to access worker compensation and other fundamental protections.

Morocco.Ag cba signing.1.15.sc

Moroccan Labor Minister Abdeslam Seddiki (standing, center), employer Rita Zniber and Bouchta Boukhalfa, the leader of CDT in Meknes (standing, left), take part in the signing ceremony. Credit: Colette Young/Solidarity Center

Crucially, this agreement– formalized during a ceremony with 400 workers, employers, labor leaders and government officials taking part–will guarantee their right to freedom of association and guarantees the rights of parties and social peace. In addition, this agreement will benefit all agricultural workers, especially women workers, who are active in this sector and represents an important percentage of the workforce. Les Domaines Brahim Zniber and the CDT are building bridges to extend similar agreements to other regions in Morocco.

“This agreement will ensure stability in employment,”says Abdelali Bouhiyadi, a union representative. “Even seasonal workers will keep their jobs and stay on the farms. Seasonal workers will be integrated gradually and the agreement will ensure social peace because a committee on conflict and negotiation will be established.”

Agriculture is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy, with high-quality agricultural products, such as wine and olive oil, exported to Europe. Some 43 percent of workers in Morocco are employed in the country’s agriculture sector, and 40 percent are women.

“This agreement will allow us to have the opportunity to be trained in our jobs,” says Hayat El Khomssi, an agricultural worker.

The agreement is an important contribution to sustainable development and economic stability in Morocco, and will serve as a model for others to follow in Morocco and throughout the region. By taking this pioneering step and signing this agreement with the CDT, Les Domaines Brahim Zniber says it offers an example to other corporations that achieving world-quality products requires world-quality workers, and investing in workers is the most important investment corporations can make.

CDT leaders say this victory is an important step toward achieving the union’s vision of a sector-wide collective bargaining agreement for agricultural workers, one with the potential of improving the working conditions of all agricultural workers in Morocco.

Peruvian Union Leader Fired after Speaking out against Poor Working Conditions

An agro-industrial company in Peru has fired a union leader in an attempt to silence one of the strongest voices against unfair and precarious working conditions, says the Peruvian labor federation CGTP. Join the LabourStart campaign for his reinstatement, and follow the campaign live.

Fidel Polo, legal defense secretary for the Agricola Viru Workers Union and deputy general secretary of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers, was fired on July 12 by his employer, Sociedad Agricola Viru, SA, for “defamation.” Polo Sanchez had appeared on a local television program to discuss a campaign for labor law reform and to speak out against working conditions in the Peruvian agricultural export industry, where workers face some of the worst conditions in the country.

Agricola Viru, where Polo had worked since 2006, is one of the largest companies in Peru’s multibillion-dollar agriculture-for-export sector. The agricultural export industry employs some 300,000 people, more than 70 percent of them women. These workers are continually denied their right to freedom of association through anti-union practices. And the law is not on their side: Law 27360, which governs all workers in the industry and was launched as a “temporary measure” in 2000 to foster the growth of new exports, enables employers to offer lower wages and fewer benefits and protections than those provided to other private-sector workers under Peruvian labor law.

Polo has been fighting to reform Law 27360, despite the huge risk of employer retaliation and resistance to union organizing. He is a union leader not only in his own workplace, but also of the newly formed National Federation of Agricultural Workers (FENTAGRO), the first farm worker labor federation in Peru.

In his May 15 television appearance, Polo talked about the campaign as well as about Agricola Viru’s continued failure to provide safe and decent working conditions in spite of workers’ immense sacrifices. In response, Agricola Viru 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.” Although Agricola Viru may view these statements as “defamation,” the Peruvian Ministry of Labor does not: Agricola Viru has been fined repeatedly over the last three years for failing to provide its workers with proper safety equipment, for denying labor inspections, and for egregious working conditions.

“Fidel Polo’s dismissal is a clear attempt by Agricola Viru to rid itself of one of the leading voices for worker rights, not only at their own bargaining table, but in the entire agro-export sector,” said Pablo Ramos, coordinator of the CGTP’s agriculture department. CGTP is mounting a write-in campaign urging Agricola Viru to rescind Polo’s letter of dismissal and allow him to return to work immediately.

The Solidarity Center works closely with both the CGTP and FENTAGRO, and has provided technical support to programs on organizing, collective bargaining, and public advocacy with agro-export sector unions in Peru.

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