“The pineapple that the consumer eats, they should know that they are consuming the sacrifice we make with our lives” – Cruz Urvina Lopez, worker at Anexco, Costa Rica
Between 21 and 25 January an international delegation of representatives from Banana Link, the GMB union, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), 3F (General Union of Danish Workers) and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) visited Costa Rica and Honduras to meet government officials, local trade union representatives and workers at Fyffes subsidiaries, Anexco and Suragroh respectively.
Honduras – Suragroh and Melon Export S.A
Over the course of the visit, the delegation was able to observe the continued systematic violation of the most basic labour and trade union rights, often with the complicity of public officials; including the non-payment of minimum wages; long and extensive working hours; lack of affiliation to the social security system; and lack of respect for the right to bargain collectively and freely organise.
“I have worked in Melexsa for several years, but they did not want to contract me this year because I joined the union. Now, I want them to pay us what they actually owe us for all the years we have worked. They didn’t even pay the wage that was really due to us either” – STAS union member Doña Petrona
The delegation met with workers from Melon Export SA (Melexsa) and Sur Agrícola SA (Suragroh). The international support that these seasonal, predominantly women, workers have received has given them the courage to join a union despite repression including 35 union members who have not been rehired for the current season.
Delegates also had the opportunity to discuss Fyffes failure to respect labour legislation and international conventions ratified by the Government of Honduras with the Labour Minister, Carlos Madero. They also met with the attorney presenting the lawsuits filed by the workers against Melexsa and Suragroh for a failure to pay minimum wages, social security contributions and other financial benefits. These Fyffes subsidiaries in Honduras ignored requests to meet with the delegation.
The company sees the union as a sin, yes, they see it as a sin to demand your rights ! That’s why we’ve not got work now. I worked there 19 years and I’m about to be 60. But there’s no work for us any more
The visit followed a complaint lodged by Banana Link and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) alleging breaches of the UK’s Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code for failure to respect unions, provide a safe workplace and pay living wages. Fyffes has failed to engage in ETI facilitated mediation to remedy these substantiated complaints.
During the visit, workers held a demonstration outside Fyffes office in Choluteca calling for the company to give them their jobs back, and the freedom to organise and bargain collectively. In this video filmed at the demonstration, some of the workers talk about their experiences.
“Fyffes is an arrogant and authoritarian company” – read an interview with Alistair Smith, Banana Link International Co-ordinator, on his views of the visit to Honduras.
Costa Rica – Anexco
Anexco has been the subject of an ongoing Make Fruit Fair campaign Urgent Action as a result of union members suffering anti-union harassment, persecution, unfair labour practices and discrimination.
The delegation met with the Ministry of Labour, who reiterated Anexco’s failure to engage constructively, having neither the willingness nor ability to address the issues, although the Ministry remains willing to host dialogue between unions and the company. An expected labour law reform due this summer may offer some hope for protection of workers’ rights, although, up to now, Anexco has shown a disrespect for workers’ rights and employment legislation.
The delegation also had a meeting arranged with Anexco management , but when they arrived at Anexco they were told that the management “were out of the country” and the delegation were refused entry to the plantation. The delegation were then followed by armed guards and photographed until they left the area.
The delegation were, however, able to meet union members from Anexco away from the plantation, from whom they heard that there is clear systematic repression of union rights and labour rights, with local management feeling that they have impunity to verbally and psychologically abuse the workers without punishment. The local management taunts union members to try to get them to quit, and ignore worker request for health & safety precautions. According to workers there is a blacklist for union members which ensures that if fired from Anexco, they cannot get a job elsewhere.
Here is what some of the workers had to say:
They look for ways on how to discriminate those that are in the union so that others can see that they treat us like dogs. They do this so other workers don’t see the value in joining the union. They treat us like dogs completely. – Ricardo Centeno Soza
My message to [Fyffes chairman David McCann] would be to give his workers a chance, an opportunity by giving them a dignified salary that justifies the work we do and also by giving his workers an opportunity to grow into other positions. He should give us a dignified wage so that his people can work happily and maybe even then he would have a more efficient production and a better product because everyone would feel fulfilled with their jobs and would do their work with more desire if they knew they would be fairly compensated. – Lester Vega Saenz
We have the opportunity to defend ourselves, like the humans that we are. Defend out rights as trade unionists because they completely discriminate you for being a trade unionist. They say, ‘You are thieves and look for ways to steal the plantation’s money,’ but we tell them, ‘We are defending our salary, our rights, nothing more, that is what we want’. – Unnamed Worker