Background: Maria is a non-union member who works in the packing plant on the St Peter plantation, owned by Del Monte Corporation, in the South Atlantic zone of Costa Rica. Del Monte and their subsidiary Pindeco together produce approximately 50% of the Costa Rican pineapples found on European supermarket shelves.
“I would normally earn about C 80,000 (€118) every 2 weeks whilst working at St Peters plantation. Sometimes we worked up to 16 hours a day and 7 days a week, depending on the orders we had to get through. We get paid piece rates - collectively we get C 50 (€0.074) per box and depending on how many boxes we fill in a day the money is divided by the number of workers in the plant. If there are fewer workers we get more money but it’s also harder work- with less staff we still need to meet the demands from suppliers so we have no choice but to work harder. At the end of the day we also have to spend two hours cleaning the packing plant.
I was the Vice President of the Solidarista Association at St Peter plantation but I always had problems due to my previous union history and my knowledge of labour rights, which are not often respected by the Solidarista organisations. I was a union member when I worked on banana plantations 15 years ago - I got sacked and put on the black list and couldn’t return to work. I haven’t been involved in a trade union since because I was scared I would get sacked again and wouldn’t be able to find work anywhere – in the banana or pineapple plantations.
The company have been keeping an eye on me as they suspected that I was a union sympathiser. In November 2009 three new field workers joined the trade union and the company responded by sacking all the workers in the field.
There’s also regular discrimination and harassment of women by the company. The plantation manager said to me that ‘women workers aren’t worth anything, they should be at home looking after the men’. Two years ago there were 29 women working in the packing plant, now there are only 8. Some women workers have had a really tough time of it, like my niece Anneth who got sacked when the company found out she was pregnant. A friend of mine also suffered regular sexual harassment. A previous member of the management was even sacked for sexual abuse of some of the women workers.
I decided to make a complaint about the conditions faced by women workers to the Labour Ministry and the National Women’s Institute. I was then sacked. The manager also got all the other workers to sign a petition to get rid of me and presented it to me when they told me I was going to lose my job. Everyone was scared not to sign it. Being sacked was bad enough but seeing the paper signed by all the other workers was really distressing (Maria is crying). I’ve supported these other workers in the past but when it came down to it they didn’t support me, this really hurt.
This was the first time I’d made a complaint as I was always scared of being put on the black list. This has now happened so I can’t work in any other pineapple plantation as I’ve been labelled as being a ‘problematic’ worker. My workmates and family members working in St Peters also got moved to worse jobs as punishment for associating with me and some have now been sacked as well.”
30th February 2010