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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nicaragua

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nicaragua, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661ef28.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 5,700,000
Capital: Managua
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Employers continue to exploit loopholes in the labour legislation to violate workers' rights, with virtually total impunity. Parmalat fired a trade unionist whilst another multinational was reported to have used labour outsourcing to undermine trade union rights. Unionised workers faced reprisals, discrimination and unfair dismissals in the public sector, and trade union organisations were eliminated from a number of government ministries.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Although basic trade union rights are guaranteed, some problematic areas exist in the law. Workers have the right to form and join the trade union of their choice, as well as to bargain collectively. While union leaders have protected status, this is limited to nine executive members per union and three branch members. The Labour Code also allows the employer to dismiss any employee, including union organisers, provided that they have the permission of the Ministry of Labour and pay double the usual severance pay. The fines for interfering in trade union affairs are not sufficiently dissuasive.

Furthermore, while the right to strike is recognised in the Constitution, a trade union must receive the approval of the Ministry of Labour before engaging in strike action. Also, to be considered officially approved, a strike must have the support of at least 50% plus one of the members of the trade union, voting in an extraordinary general meeting. Finally, the Labour Code provides for compulsory arbitration of a dispute where 30 days have elapsed since the calling of a strike.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Nicaragua continues to be among the countries with the highest poverty indicators in Latin America.

In December, workers', employers', civil society organisations and the government signed a roadmap to eradicate child labour and its worst forms in Nicaragua. The union of carpenters, joiners, fitters and allied workers SNSCAASC (Sindicato Nacional de Carpinteros, Albañiles, Armadores Similares y Conexos de Nicaragua), along with various other trade union organisations, presented the bill to the National Legislative Assembly to regulate labour outsourcing, subcontracting and intermediation.

Trade unions continued to seriously question the working conditions at the Ingenio San Antonio sugar mill, owned by Nicaragua Sugar Estates Ltd (NSEL). Over 3,700 former workers are reported to have died, having suffered from chronic kidney disease due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxic chemicals, the pollution of the water supply and the appalling working conditions.

Workers' rights violated in public sector: Unionised workers in the public sector witnessed a multitude of abusive practices by the authorities such as reprisals, discrimination, unfair dismissals, illegal suspensions, illegal contracts with mega salaries, the creation of new illegal posts, illegal promotions, arbitrary transfers and disregard for administrative and judicial decisions.

Contract labour used to undermine trade union rights: According to Marcial Cabrera, general secretary the food, agribusiness, tourism, service, commerce and allied workers' union FUTATSCON, the use of contract labour remains widespread, reducing workers' guarantees to a minimum and leading to the violation of their fundamental rights. Nicaragua's workers are suffering the consequences: very low wages, appalling working conditions, poor social protection, and the denial of trade union rights.

Trade unions eliminated from various ministries: The public workers' union FEDETRASEP (Federación Democrática de Trabajadores del Servicio Público), affiliated to the CUS (Confederación de Unificación Sindical), denounced the unfair dismissal of over 21,000 public employees, and the elimination of 116 trade union organisations in several ministries, all as part of the anti-union reprisals taken by the government.

One of the institutions deploying the fiercest anti-union strategies was the Inland Revenue Department (DGI) within the Finance and Public Credit Ministry (MHCP), which sacked 774 public employees, disregarding the administrative procedure established by law, took reprisals, practised discrimination based on political ideology, violated the law protecting trade union representatives from dismissal, the right to organise and to collective bargaining, as well as breaching the collective agreements established in the institution.

The CUS reported that many of the DGI employees were dismissed for opposing and refusing to form part of the Sandinista Leadership Councils (CLS), set up by the present government to hold political rallies and collect funds in the form of compulsory deductions from the wages of employees in the public institutions affiliated to the CLS.

Parmalat dismisses trade unionist: On 23 January, Paulino García, a Parmalat employee, the finance secretary of the "Armando Llanes" trade union and a member of the Education Committee of the food, agribusiness, tourism, service, commerce and allied workers' union FUTATSCON, affiliated to the IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations), was fired. Parmalat applied Article 45 of the Nicaraguan Labour Code providing for dismissals without due cause, totally disregarding the law protecting trade union representatives from unfair dismissal. García denounced that his sacking was linked to the repeated demands for improved health and safety conditions at the company and the request made to the Labour Ministry for inspections.

Labour disputes and anti-union reprisals are nothing new at Parmalat Centroamérica. Since 2004, when the workers succeeded in forming a union, which cost many of them their jobs and led to a long fight to secure the signing of a first collective agreement, the members of the "Armando Llanes" union have repeatedly denounced violations of their labour and trade union rights.

Trade unionist keeps up her fight: Yahaira del Carmen Sánchez, a former executive secretary at the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry (MTI) and the minutes and agreements secretary of the "Andrés Castro" trade union at the ministry, was unfairly dismissed in February 2007. Two courts have since ruled in her favour, the District Labour Court and the Labour Chamber of the Managua Appeal Court. Both ordered the MTI to reinstate her to the same or equivalent position and to pay her the wages lost since her dismissal. However, the senior officials at the ministry refused to comply with the rulings.

In November, after battling for months in the face of official and institutional indifference, she turned to the Public Prosecutor's Office, asking it to assist her in her case against the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Pablo F. Martínez, for contempt, discrimination and disobeying the authority of a public official.

Freedom of association denied: Between 2004 and 2007, the Pescanova Group acquired the services and contracting company SERVICONSA and Camarones de Nicaragua SA (CAMANICA). In 2008, it opened the largest prawn processing and freezing plant in Latin America, in the western department of Chinandega. The new plant was to employ two thousand permanent employees. The company persistently violates its workers' labour and trade union rights. A large part of the staff is hired and repeatedly rehired on temporary contracts. Under this system, the workers go for years without enjoying labour and social benefits. There is no freedom of association; those attempting to form a union were dismissed before starting the procedures to register it with the Labour Ministry.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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