Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ecuador

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ecuador, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca3343.html [accessed 21 August 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: 13,400,000
Capital: Quito
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The violations of trade union rights in banana plantations continued, with the dismissal of 26 trade union activists. The anti-union repression was a reaction to trade union activism in banana and flower companies. The President of one national trade union confederation was threatened as a result of his trade union activities.

Trade union rights in law

The Constitution and Labour Code provide most workers with the right to form trade unions, with the exception of the police and public sector employees in non-revenue producing areas.

Obstacles to forming a trade union: Public sector workers are only allowed to submit a list of demands for collective bargaining or negotiate a collective agreement if they manage to form an ad hoc committee representing more than half the workforce.

Civil servants and public service workers who are employees or executive staff are subject to the Civil Service and Administrative Careers Act (Ley Orgánica de Servicio Civil y Carrera Administrativa, LOSCA). Blue-collar workers are subject to the Labour Code. The former are not allowed to organise in professional associations, trade unions or works' councils, whilst the latter are able to do so, depending on their precise work. However, only one organisation, the one with the most members, is allowed to fully represent workers in discussions with employers. This is what is referred to as "single union" status ("sindicato único").

A minimum of 30 workers is required to form a union. As 60 per cent of enterprises in Ecuador employ less than 30 workers, one million workers are effectively excluded from organising. Workers have to be of Ecuadorian nationality to sit on a union executive.

If the workers that form a trade union in an enterprise represent less than 50 per cent of the workforce, works' councils have to be set up. To form a works' council, 50 per cent plus one of the workforce is needed. If the works' council has more members than the union, the union will have no power in the workplace.

Right to strike: The right to strike is virtually non-existent in the civil service. Only workers covered by the Labour Code, with the exceptions foreseen in article 35 of the Constitution, may go on strike.

The Constitution stipulates that it is prohibited to paralyse activities in the public sector. The activities listed include education, justice, social security, transport, the water service, electricity supply and fuel distribution, which are not included in the ILO's definition of essential services. Pursuant to Decree No. 105, passed on 7 June 1967, those breaching this rule are liable to between two and five years in prison.

In the private sector, strikes can only be called at enterprise or factory level. The law further restricts this right for most sectors by requiring a 10 day cooling off period and, for some, such as agricultural workers, a 20 day period before strike action can be taken.

The law prohibits federations and confederations from calling strikes. Solidarity strikes and boycotts are restricted to a maximum of three days.

No collective bargaining for civil servants: Only the workers covered by the Labour Code have the right to take part in collective bargaining. For workers covered by the 2004 Civil Service and Administrative Careers Act, Article 110 establishes that working conditions shall not be agreed, but imposed. The same Act effectively prevents the majority of workers in State owned enterprises and any companies in which the State is a majority shareholder, from engaging in collective bargaining. Teachers are not allowed to negotiate at the local or workplace level, only at the national level.

Subcontracting ("tercerización") now regulated: On 31 May the Draft Law to reform the Labour Code was adopted. That law regulates the subcontracting of work and services. The adoption of that law will correct a longstanding practice in the country, which has been going on for over 30 years and has worsened since the 1990s, restricting people's freedom to join a union, engage in collective bargaining and enjoy job security, decent and fair wages and access to social security. It will also provide for companies to be registered and controlled, since many had been established illegally but will now need to operate as regulated enterprises subject to control by competent bodies. The trade union centres were actively involved in the debate and the subsequent adoption of the new law.

Trade union rights in practice

Organising obstructed by management practices: The national trade union centre affiliated to the ITUC CEOSL reports that in over 90 per cent of private enterprises where trade unions exist, management seeks to reduce the unions' influence by setting up "solidarismo" (solidarity) style associations.

It is also common practice for employers to fail to declare employees to the social security authorities, thereby avoiding payment of social security contributions – even if they have deducted these from employees' pay packets. Not only are the employees deprived of social security cover, they are not officially recognised as permanent employees and are therefore denied their organising and collective bargaining rights.

Other practices, such as the extensive use of short-term contracts, and the fact that legal penalties against employers who violate the law are insufficiently dissuasive, prevent workers from enjoying their legally protected right to organise.

Anti-union repression on the banana plantations...: Attempts to organise workers on Ecuador's banana plantations have met with systematic and often severe repression. Ecuadorian trade unions have constantly denounced the terrible working conditions of the banana plantation workers. The workers are paid very low wages and are exposed to various chemical substances when working on the plantations during aerial pesticide fumigation. Child labour is widespread in this sector. About 98 per cent of workers are employed by sub-contractors, making it easier for employers to avoid their legal obligations.

Most workers are too afraid to organise. Despite the appalling conditions they need their jobs. Only seven of Ecuador's 6,000 banana plantations are unionised. Those who attempt to organise lose their jobs and are blacklisted.

... and in the flower companies: Workers in Ecuador's flower companies are too afraid to organise because their employers threaten to fire them if they do. As a result, of the country's 500 flower companies, only three have unions. It is common practise for workers who organise, or attempt to do so, to be put on lists that are shared with other companies, with a warning that they should not be hired.

The authorities are complicit in preventing union organising. Flower workers have tried on repeated occasions to set up a federation. The Ministry of Labour has refused to register the federation, after consulting the flower producers and exporters' association Expoflores, which it has preferred to do rather than basing its decision on whether the applicant union has complied with all the relevant legal requirements.

Violations in 2006

Background: In November 2006, Rafael Correa was elected President. He promised to call a national referendum on convening a Constituent Assembly to re-draft the Constitution, to reject any free trade agreement with the USA and to refuse to allow an increase in personnel at the Manta air base.

Repression of a demonstration by workers: On three consecutive days the indigenous workers' confederation, Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), and the other national centres jointly called a peaceful demonstration to demand the interruption of the negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the USA, the termination of the contract with the oil company OXY, the ending of the negative impact of Plan Colombia and the establishment of a constituent assembly to address all these matters. The action was supported in various provinces but was violently suppressed by the police and the army, who used tear gas and firearms, causing serious injuries to 15 people, and made ten arrests.

Threats and intimidation of union leaders from the CTE and CEDOCUT: From January onwards, Manuel Mesías Tatamuez Moreno, President of the Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas Unitarias de Trabajadores (CEDOCUT), received a series of calls on his mobile phone and at his home, threatening him on account of his work in defending workers. On 14 March a van with no number plates followed him around the capital city, Quito, and tried to force him to stop at a crossroads. He managed to get away but on the same day he noticed that another vehicle was tailing him. He complained about this incident to the Ministry of Labour and received temporary protection from a policeman for four days. On 1 April some unknown persons entered the offices of the Vice-President of CEDOCUT, stealing some important documents belonging to the confederation.

A similar event took place on 1 January at the head office of the Confederación de Trabajadores del Ecuador (CTE), where all the information and audiovisual material were taken away, together with the archives, some art works and confidential information belonging to the confederation.

Despite formal complaints being made to the competent bodies coupled with a demand for investigations into both events, so far no additional information is available about the perpetrators.

Violations of trade union rights continue in the banana plantations: On 23 January in the early morning, when the employees were starting work at the Hacienda Josefa, a supplier company for Dole, ten leaders of the union, including its General Secretary Manuel Ruiz, were shown their names on a list drawn up by the administration, which forbade them access to the site because they had been dismissed. They were told that their redundancy pay had been deposited with the Labour Inspectorate at Babahoyo. That day, the rest of the workers started a strike calling for the reinstatement of the sacked workers. On 11 February a 35-strong police contingent removed the striking workers from the Josefa plantation. When challenged by the workers to produce a warrant justifying this action, the manager preferred to use force and was supported by the police.

On 24 January, at the San Luís plantation in Babahoyo canton, a supplier of Bonita's Noboa Banana Corporation, 16 of the leading trade union activists were forbidden access to the site. Twelve of them were leaders of the union and members of the works council that is in the process of being registered by the Under-Secretariat for Labour in the coastal region. They were also informed of their dismissal.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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