UNISON is one of the largest trade unions in Britain, with more than 1.3m members providing public services in health, education, local government and other sectors. Since 2017, through their International Development Fund, UNISON has supported Banana Link’s trade union partners in Costa Rica – SITRAP – to defend the rights of pineapple and banana plantation workers who are operating in some of the most hostile conditions for trade unions.
Recently, Banana Link and SITRAP spoke to journalist Demetrios Matheou about the history of trade unionism in Costa Rica, and how international workers solidarity has helped to enable SITRAP to increase their membership and expand their capacity to support workers through conciliation services, legal assistance, worker training and more.
A new UNISON supported project will be launched in Costa Rica in September, with banana and agricultural workers union SITRAP joining forces with ANEP – Costa Rica’s National Association for Public and Private Sector Employees – to deliver on shared objectives around occupational health and safety and the promotion of a violence-free workplace. Among the first activities undertaken will be a review of how Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence is being applied in agricultural plantations.
Earlier this month the two unions established a detailed common agenda, including the defence of the 8 hour work-day, which is being threatened by new flexible working legislation. In addition the unions will join in campaigning for a new minimum wage for skilled workers, for direct access to healthcare through to the National Insurance Institute, and for improved labour inspection, in line with recommendations made in a report on contemporary forms of slavery in Costa Rica by UN Special Rapporteur Tomoya Obokata in November.
The UN report highlighted a number of concerns around agricultural plantation workers – some of which Banana Link has recently reported on – including the following:
- Forced labour remains an issue in a number of sectors, including on fruit plantations. On plantations, workers who are paid per unit rather than per hour often end up working long days of up to 12-15 hours.
- The risk of occupational accidents and exposure to toxic chemicals remains high in the agricultural sector (see this news story)
- While there is a legal requirement for employers to make social security contributions on behalf of their employees, this does not always happen, and there are reports of workers do not receive annual leave / sick leave and have their wages docked when absent (see workers discussing the situation here).
- Access to rest areas and toilets are extremely limited, with a particularly negative effect on women workers.
- Repression of trade union organisation despite the guarantee of freedom of association by the Constitution and other laws.
Despite the many challenges, SITRAP remains as a strong and active union presence for banana and pineapple plantation workers in Costa Rica. To read more about the history of trade unionism in Costa Rican fruit plantations and how UNISON has helped support banana a pineapple workers click here: The bruising truth about bananas.: British trade union solidarity for Costa Rican banana and pineapple workers