Anti-union sackings and toxic chemical use at Costa Rican pineapple farm

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22  June 2011, Los Chiles/San José

Twenty five workers were dismissed as soon as they joined the trade union ANEP at two pineapple farms near Los Chiles in Northern Costa Rica this month. Despite the threats to them and their families if they spoke out, one of the workers gave a press conference today to denounce the situation at Bana Internacional Arero and Natura Farms LWO, two plantations belonging to the same owner.

Workers had called on the union to help resolve a range of problems of non-compliance with labour legislation. Many are hired by labour contractors who do not register them with the health and social security system, allow no holidays, do not pay their thirteenth month and do not pay the overtime worked.  On top of that, many of them abuse their irregular migratory status to pay them below the legal minimum wage.

The workers also denounced the use of the highly toxic insecticide and nematicide Carbofuran, which government authorities claimed was no longer used in the country following a ban on use of the chemical for imported food products by the US Environmnet Protection Agency (EPA) at the end of 2009.

According to the EPA: "dietary, worker and ecological risks are unacceptable for all uses of Carbofuran. All products containing Carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards, and therefore are ineligible for reregistration."

"During an inspection by a certification body, one of the workers protested that the chemical was being hidden from inspectors and was promptly fired the following day. When the government's labour inspectorate visits, all the illegal Nicaraguan workers are put in trucks and driven out of view; they do the same with chemicals," Gerardo Barba Hurtado, chair of the local union branch, told reporters at the press conference. "For all these reasons we decided to form a union; but the response from the company has been to sack all those who attended the meeting we organised on Sunday 5th June", he added.

A member of the Costa Rican Parliament for the Broad Front Party, José Maria Villalta, promised to raise this latest example of the flouting of legislation in the pineapple industry with the Labour, Health and Environment Ministries, who he said were failing to do their jobs.

Sources: National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), San Jose, 22nd June; El Financiero, San José, January 2010; www.epa.gov

See video below of the press conference (with English sub-titles)