At a funeral service in Lima, Peru, dozens of street cleaners yesterday mourned the death of their colleague, Rosa Mamani Apaza, a street cleaner who was killed on the job August 29 by stray gunfire as bullets flew nearby during an apparent late morning robbery. Several other bystanders were injured.
Mamani, 44, worked for more than 30 years at a company that had been contracted by the city of Lima, cleaning sidewalks and streets in the city’s historic Jirón de la Union, where she was killed, one block from presidential palace.
She supported her two children, ages 12 and 17, and had migrated to Lima from Puno, a town in southeastern Peru, for better job opportunities.
Mamani “was a woman who always fought for her rights,” says Raúl Oviedo, secretary general of SITOBUR, the union that represents service workers at Innova Ambiental, the company where Mamani worked. “She always looked to improve working conditions.”
Oviedo discussed the importance of her work, which helped “maintain public health for the inhabitants of Lima.” Yet union leaders say the company, which employs 1,200 workers, the vast majority of whom are women, has not taken steps to secure the safety of its employees, who are on temporary contracts even though the country’s labor laws stipulate they should be permanent.
Even as mourners gathered at Mamani’s funeral, Innova fired six cleaners. Innova is owned by Brazilian Grupo Solvi, which owns 30 cleaning companies in Brazil.
Further, the city of Lima does not have a contract with Innova, a situation that further increases the workers’ precarity.
Street Workers Want Company to Address Harsh Working Conditions
Apaza Ordóñez, president of Peru’s congressional Labor Commission, decried the poor working conditions of the public-sector street cleaners and demanded the company detail the security measures it provides workers.
Public-sector cleaners like Mamani are exposed to daily hazards on the job, including sexual harassment and long exposure to harsh weather, and must handle dangerous equipment, such as trash compactors. SITOBUR, which tweets about the conditions workers face, was recently blocked by the city from its Twitter feed.
In July, workers waged a brief strike, demanding the company provide safe and functional tools and protective equipment, as well as access to bathrooms for women cleaners and access to lunchrooms. Workers also say they have difficulty taking sick leave.
The Solidarity Center is conducting a research project with SITOBUR to document the most common forms of gender-based violence street cleaners face on the job. This data, along with strategies for women workers facing gender-based violence in the export-oriented agriculture and health sectors, will inform recommendations for improving national-level policies to strengthen prevention and penalties and integrate best practices in workplaces.
Talks between Peruvian mineworkers and the Ministry of Labor over proposed labor law reforms came to a standstill after the government began retaliating against workers who took part in a recent nationwide strike, despite promises not to do so, according to the National Federation of Mining, Metallurgical and Steel Workers of Peru (FNTMMSP).
The government and FNTMMSP agreed to a monthlong series of negotiations after mine workers from 56 unions in Peru went out on an indefinite, nationwide strike July 19 to protest the government’s proposed reforms to loosen workplace safety rules, make it easier to fire workers and shift the burden of paying into an unemployment fund to workers from employers.
The director of the Peruvian Labor Ministry contacted each company where workers went on strike to clarify that the strike was illegal, a move that could result in discipline or dismissal of the workers involved—and could send a warning that “workers do not dare in the future to exercise our right to strike,” according to the union.
“We call out the mining employers who, seeking to intimidate miners throughout Peru, have sent notarized letters to workers who participated in the struggle challenging their inalienable labor rights to do so. We respond with firmness: We know our rights—such as the right to strike, and we know when the employer violates labor laws, does not comply with collective bargaining agreements, and excessively abuses the labor rights of its workers,” FNTMMSP says in a statement.
Although the right to strike is protected under Peruvian law, the freedom to strike is restricted. The government declared the mineworkers’ strike out of compliance with legal requirements, as it does for most major strikes. The Mineworkers Federation has appealed the determination.
“If the dialogue is not resumed and the signed agreements are not fulfilled, we will take measures necessary to enforce our rights, which are also the rights of all the workers of the country,” FNTMMSP says.
Juarez told Reuters that miners want President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to drop proposed labor reforms that would loosen safety rules, make it easier to fire workers and shift the burden of paying into an unemployment fund to workers from employers. Kuczynski, who took office in July 2016, is a former investment banker and free-market proponent who has sought to attract investment since taking office.
Some 200,000 members of the General Confederation of Peru Workers (Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú, CGTP) also conducted a general work stoppage yesterday to protest the president’s proposed labor reforms.
Although workers in Peru are allowed by law to strike, the freedom to strike frequently is restricted. The government declared the mine workers’ strike out of compliance with legal requirements, as it does for most major strikes. The Mineworkers Federation is appealing the determination.
Peru is the world’s second-biggest copper producer and its largest mines are operated by major multinational corporations, including Southern Copper Corp., where 2,000 miners went on strike earlier this year for better medical care, an end to company surveillance of workers and the reinstatement of dismissed workers.
A deadly fire in a Peruvian warehouse has exposed forced and child labor and exploitive working conditions in the country’s vast informal economy. Four workers, one just 15 years old, who were locked into storage containers that doubled as work spaces are missing and presumed dead.
The blaze also injured at least 15 people, according to news reports. It took more than 500 firefighters five days to extinguish the flames.
On Thursday, June 22, the fire broke out in Nicolini Gallery, a building used for retail and manufacturing, located in the Las Malvinas area of Lima, Peru’s capital. Crammed with formal and informal businesses, the building included a fifth “floor” where metal shipping containers, ostensibly for storage, were used by JPEG SAC company as a workshop to produce counterfeit light bulbs. JPEG SAC employees included workers under 16 years old, who were not registered with the labor authorities.
The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) said that workers were killed ”not by mistake, happenstance, destiny or bad luck,” but rather they were victims of an “exploitive model that privileges profit by any means possible.”
Government officials called working conditions inhumane and slavelike.
“One of the victims called his mother to ask her to take care of his 21-day-old baby, knowing he would not make it out alive,” said Samantha Tate, Solidarity Center Peru country program director. “While it is not clear what started the fire, the building’s safety risks had been reported and it had been ordered closed. And it’s clear that these deaths were entirely preventable.”
The day before, more than 400 labor inspectors and assistant labor inspectors went out on a national strike to call for the strengthening of the National Superintendence of Labor Inspections, known as SUNAFIL. Among their strike demands, the labor inspectors called for an increase in the budget for the Labor Inspectorate to ensure proper protection of labor rights in the 14 regions where it currently operates and to open inspectorates in the 15 regions where there currently are none. Additionally, inspectors call for their employer to respect their collective bargaining agreement, and judicial decisions that would provide a bonus for inspections. The Solidarity Center works with SUNAFIL and the two labor inspectors’ unions to train workers about how labor inspections can help achieve stronger enforcement of worker rights.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment Promotion and SUNAFIL have come under scrutiny for their decision to halt a program to inspect small informal enterprises, like those found in Nicolini. On June 27, Minister of Labor Alfonso Grados testified before the congressional labor committee about the government’s role and responsibility in preventing tragedies like this one. The International Labor Organization’s office for the Andean region decried the use of forced labor in Peru, calling for all parties to abandon their indifference and join the fight to end all unacceptable forms of work in Peru and around the world.
“The labor inspectors and the young men and women working at JPEG SAC, while worlds apart in terms of education and life opportunities, are connected in the web of common humanity. When one group improves their conditions, they will be able to help the other group come out of darkness, out of danger and into the light,” said Tate. “Once we begin to recognize and act upon our connectedness, and make policies and budget decisions oriented by this respect for human life, then, and only then, will we know that there will be no more Nicolini tragedies.”
More than 200,000 workers toil in slavery-like conditions similar to the victims of the Nicolini fire, without labor rights or the information that would help them defend their rights. Seventy percent of Peruvian workers labor in the informal sector, most without contracts, social benefits, family-supporting wages or health and safety training and protection.
Update: Striking mine workers are standing strong despite the Peru Ministry of Labor declaring their strike illegal during a second appeal process yesterday and company threats to fire all the workers if they do not return to work by Wednesday. Construction workers, members of the Peruvian General Workers Confederation (CGTP), announced that they will join the strike in solidarity.
On Sunday, police fired tear gas at strikers as they walked a picket line near an industrial railroad bridge above the Osmore River. The striking workers now control both sides of the bridge, preventing rail passage of the minerals from the mines to the nearby town of Ilo, where there is the refinery and the port. On Tuesday, the SUT-SPCC union is conducting worker assemblies in Ilo to make decisions for next steps.
Some 2,000 miners on strike at Southern Copper Corp. in Peru (SPCC) are meeting with government negotiators again today over issues that prompted their walkout: improved profit-sharing, better medical care, an end to company surveillance of workers and the reinstatement of dismissed workers. (Workers and their families rally in this video.)
Miners’ families rallied in support of the striking workers. Credit: Colectivo Resistencia Sur Tacna
The miners, members of the Sindicato Unificado de la Southern y Anexos (SUT SPCC), went on strike last week after negotiations broke down, halting operations at the Toquepala and Cuajone mines. The union’s general secretary, Jorge Campos, was arbitrarily dismissed in 2016, according to the miners, and his reinstatement is among their demands.
From the United States, the United Steelworkers condemned the company’s attempts to fire striking workers and the decision of the Peruvian Labor Ministry to declare the strike illegal. The ministry argued the issues are not subject to collective bargaining and the union has appealed the ruling.
IndustriALL Director Fernando Lopes also condemned the actions of the company, noting it is part of Grupo Mexico, “known for its violations of freedom of association in Mexico and the USA. Peruvian workers will not let the company do the same thing to them. We extend all our support to the union and the federation.”
Also, IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches wrote to SPCC company president, Oscar González Rocha, to urge him to negotiate in good faith with the SUT SPCC.
The SUT SPCC is affiliated to the National Federation of Miners and Metalworkers of Peru (FNTMMSP), which is in turn affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.
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