Sunday, December 05, 2010
INTERNATIONAL LABOUR COLOMBIA:
COLOMBIAN FLOWER WORKERS FACE BITTER STRIKE SOLIDARITY NEEDED:
It's the holiday season, and floral gifts are a large part of tradition at this time of year. Yet down Colombia way those who grow the flowers are facing some very scrooge-like employers who aren't reluctant to use violence against their employees. Here's the story and appeal for solidarity from the US Labor Education in the Americas Project (LEAP).
Colombian Flower Workers Strike to Protest Wage Theft!
Sent: December 1, 2010 4:31:01 PM
Hundreds of flower workers in Colombia have gone on strike to protest the failure of the country’s largest grower to pay wages and legally-required benefits. The recent strikes began on November 16 when flower workers at the Guacarí plantation in Zipaquira, Colombia, near Bogotá, went on strike in response to Floramerica’s labor rights violations. These include withholding pay for more than a month and neglecting to provide other legally-required benefits for several months, including social security and health insurance.
On December 1, workers at several of the company’s other plantations went on strike as well. Workers were not paid on November 15 or 30, and have not received benefits for months. Union leaders are concerned that the company will use the current crisis as an opportunity to replace permanent workers with contract labor.
Take Action Now!
The struggle at the Guacarí plantation highlights the systemic labor rights violations affecting flower workers in Colombia. On September 7, 2010, workers on the Guacarí plantation organized a union in response to the company’s failure to pay its workers in more than a month or make the legally-required health care and social security contributions for more than three months. Soon after the formation of the new union, Sintraguacarí, affiliated to Untraflores, seven prominent union members were illegally fired.
On September 18, the Sintraguacarí union went on strike, facing violence as the police used tear gas and physical force to intimidate strikers. Several workers were injured.
Guacarí is one of the plantations owned by Floramerica, which took over Dole’s flower operations in Colombia in 2009.
When Sintraguacarí met with representatives of Floramerica and the Ministry of Social Protection (Colombia’s Labor Ministry) on September 22, the company refused to give a timetable for paying workers and would not accept the union’s demands. Floramerica maintains that it is unable to pay workers as a result of the appreciation of the Colombian peso, and that it is incumbent upon the Colombian government to take action to address the issue.
Today, the situation remains the same. The company has not paid its workers in more than a month or made the legally-required health care and social security contributions for more than three months.
On December 1, workers at the Fragancia and Splendor plantations, where unions won collective bargaining agreements in 2008 with the support of USLEAP and others, went on strike. Workers were not paid on November 15 or 30, and have not received benefits for months. Union leaders are concerned that the company will use the crisis to replace permanent workers with contract or “indirect” workers who have virtually no legal protections and cannot form a union.
According to the Sunburst Farms website, the Nannetti Family purchased Floramerica-Sunburst Farms from Dole Fresh Flowers on January 16, 2009, creating one of the largest flower growing and distributing operations in the world. Although Sunburst has claimed in e-mails to USLEAP that it is only the flower distributor for Floramerica and is therefore relieved of responsibility to Colombian workers, its website defines Floramerica as the “growing operation of Sunburst Farms.” Regardless, it is the responsibility of both growers and distributors to ensure that they treat their workers with dignity and respect and abide by national labor laws.
Ironically, the Guacarí plantation is Rainforest Alliance-certified, highlighted on the Sunburst website as evidence of the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. Rainforest Alliance has agreed to look into the situation, but it remains to be seen if Rainforest will respond effectively to the blatant violation of labor rights standards at this plantation.
To learn more about flower worker rights and economic justice, visit the USLEAP website.
Take action now! Urge Sunburst Farms to respect the basic rights of workers at the Guacarí, Fragancia Herradura, Fragancia Ipanema, and Splendor El Rosal plantations and negotiate with democratic unions to ensure that workers receive what they are legally owed and are not replaced by contract or “indirect” labor. Simultaneously, urge the Colombian Minister of Social Protection to hold Floramerica-Sunburst responsible for past and present violations of worker rights.
Please go to this link to send the following letter to the Colombian authorities and to the management of Sunburst Corporation.
The Honorable Mauricio Santamaría Salamanca
Minister of Social Protection
Ministry of Social Protection
Mr. Geno Valdes
Miami, FL 33122
Dear Minister Santamaría Salamanca and Mr. Valdes:
As a U.S. consumer concerned about the treatment of workers producing the goods I buy, I write to express grave concern over reports I have received about flower workers in Colombia who produce for the U.S. market, and the struggle of workers at Floramerica (Sunburst) plantations such as Guacarí, Fragancia Herradura, Fragancia Ipanema, and Splendor El Rosal.
At the Guacari plantation, for example, workers have been asking to be paid their legally required benefits and back pay for more than three months. A protest launched on September 18 was met with violence, followed by negotiations with the Colombian Ministry of Social Protection on September 22. I understand that workers resumed their strike at the Guacarí plantation on Tuesday, November 16 to protest not being paid October wages and other legally-required benefits, including health and social security pensions, family assistance subsidies, bonuses, and aid for purchasing uniforms. On December 1, workers at the Fragancia Herradura, Fragancia Ipanema, and Splendor El Rosal plantations also went on strike in opposition to not receiving paychecks or benefits for the month of November.
United States trade policy permits flowers to enter the U.S. duty-free so long as Colombia takes steps to respect the basic rights of workers. In addition, Sunburst Farms promotes the fact that Rainforest Alliance has certified that flower plantations producing for Sunburst Farms meet minimum social standards. Failure to pay workers their legally-required pay and benefits falls far short of fulfilling basic labor rights and meeting minimum social standards.
I respectfully request that Floramerica and Sunburst Farms meet its legal obligations, providing back pay and all legally-required benefits, and respectfully request that the Ministry of Social Protection enforce the law to ensure that the workers at the Finca Guacarí and all plantations associated with Sunburst Farms are provided their legally-mandated wages and benefits. I also urge the company not to replace permanent workers with contract, temporary, or “indirect” workers, and that you negotiate with Sintraguacari, Sintrasplendor, Untrafagrancia, Untraflores, and the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia) to come to a quick, fair resolution.
Update: I have just learned that on December 1, Floramerica reportedly sent in thugs to beat and intimidate workers at the Guacarí Plantation, and that they replaced strikers with subcontracted labor. Reports also reveal that all permanent Guacarí workers resigned in protest to the violence and financial insecurity. I strongly urge Sunburst to end its support of violence and union busting, and the Ministry of Social Protection to take swift action against such a flagrant disregard for Colombian law, bringing to justice those who perpetrated the violence.