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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras

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 - Honduras, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca2b2d.html [accessed 18 April 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: 7,635,875
Capital: Tegucigalpa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

A number of companies dismissed the whole leadership of their employees' trade union in a clear strategy to destroy the union. It remains virtually impossible to create or build up trade unions in the export processing zones. There have been several reports of trade union harassment in transnational banana companies. Three members of a bank workers union were arrested.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The law recognises the right to form and join trade unions, but imposes restrictions. At least 30 workers are needed to form a trade union, which makes it impossible to create trade unions in small companies. In addition, the Labour Ministry can de-register a union whenever the number of its members falls below 30.

There cannot be more than one union in a given enterprise or institution and 90 per cent of the workers belonging to that union must be Honduran nationals. Trade union officials must be Honduran nationals and must be engaged in the activity concerned. Workers on farms that do not continually employ more than ten workers are not covered by the Labour Code. The Organic Law on the police force bans security guards from joining a union.

Trade union protection: Protection is provided to workers trying to form a union and to the union's leadership. However, the measure only covers the leadership of the confederation and not the leaders of federations or branch committees. What is more, in the event of a trade union leader being dismissed there is no law or legal procedure providing for the person's reinstatement but the normal process for dismissals is applied, which clearly prevents the person's immediate reinstatement and, thus, the full exercise of trade union rights.

Right to strike: The right to strike is also recognised, but limited. Federations and confederations may not call a strike. A two-thirds majority of the votes of the total union membership is required to call a strike. Civil servants may not strike. Employees of State owned enterprises must give six months notice or have the government's approval before striking. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has the power to end disputes in oil production, refining, transport and distribution services. But, it has no power to ensure that employers comply with the law. Collective disputes in non-essential public services are subjected to compulsory arbitration and it is not permitted to call a strike while the arbitration process is under way (two years). Public employees are not allowed to take part in solidarity strikes.

A dangerous draft law: This year the President of Honduras submitted a proposed law reforming various articles in the Penal Code, with a view to toughening the penalties for participation in street protests, such as the blocking of roads and bridges. The measure is aimed at blocking trade union action and legalising the repression of such action.

Collective bargaining: The right to collective bargaining is protected by law, and retribution by employers for trade union activity is prohibited. However, there are restrictions on that right. Although public employees are allowed to organise they are not allowed to conclude collective agreements. Also, the Labour Code restricts the matters that can be included in negotiations and stipulates that the Labour Ministry must officially endorse the content of a collective agreement. Both factors restrict the collective bargaining autonomy of trade unions.

Trade union rights in practice

Lack of protection: In practice, workers have no law to protect them adequately from anti-union discrimination. Workers are harassed and even sacked as a result of their union activities. In the export processing zones (EPZs) workers are exploited and there are reports of workers trying to form unions being sacked and blacklisted, as well as being subjected to harassment, separation from their colleagues and psychological and even, physical abuse.

Anti-union strategies of companies: Despite the legal recognition of trade union protection, the main strategy that is still being employed by companies to destroy trade unions is by dismissing all their leaders, often at the very moment the union is founded, thereby preventing its consolidation and growth. As the reinstatement procedure is very slow, the people concerned have ultimately had to find new jobs in other companies in order to survive financially, so in practice even where the reinstatement is ordered the conditions enabling the creation of a union no longer exist, since the staff has changed, and the whole organising process has to start again more or less from scratch.

Companies also use other ways of blocking trade union organising at all costs, such as filing writs requesting the dissolution of the union. Where a union does exist in a company, the management tirelessly pursues its tactic of imposing arbitrary demands, threats, reprisals and other forms of mistreatment of the members of the union.

Complicity by the Ministry of Labour: The Ministry of Labour does not ensure that employers respect freedom of association, in accordance with its non-interventionist approach. The violations of workers' rights and the tendency of the Ministry of Labour to side with the employers are strongly criticised by citizens and trade unions.

Collective bargaining: In practice, the right to collective bargaining is violated, since negotiations and the reaching of collective agreements mean improvements for workers in their standard of living. Employers are only forced to share a small proportion of their profits. This is the main reason for the strong objection of employers, in alliance with the government, to the application of these rights.

One method used by employers to undermine the free exercise of collective bargaining rights has been the creation of a parallel "association", which suits the management and which they legitimise by inviting the members of that association to negotiate collective agreements. That enables them to sidestep the real demands of the workforce and to neutralise the unions' action.

Violations in 2006

Background: The Free Trade Agreement with the United States has been in force since April and the economic and social conditions of workers have not improved. The struggles of labour and people's movements have been many and varied, but such organisations have been countered by a general wave of violence, with one labour inspector assassinated, meetings interrupted by armed attacks, and assaults on various leaders.

Trade union harassment in the banana plantations: The banana workers' unions coordinating body (Coordinadora de Sindicatos Bananeros de Honduras, COSIBAH) made another official complaint in January against the banana company Tela Railroad Company for violating the international conventions on freedom of association. This time the company had threatened the President of the union at the subsidiary Empresa Americana de Exportación y Ameribi (SITRAAMERIBI), Gustavo Fajardo Castro, by suspending him from his post for 16 days. This, coupled with the unfair dismissal of three workers by the company, sparked off a strike by 400 workers at the America and Ameribi companies, both located in the region of Progreso.

Trade unions impeded and creation of parallel organisations: The workers at the Delta Apparel factory made their third attempt last May to register the leadership of the union SITRADASA with the Ministry of Labour. The organisation had faced fierce opposition from the company's management. The independent workers' federation (Federación Independiente de Trabajadores de Honduras, FITH) later complained that the company had filed a writ to the Supreme Court requesting the dissolution of the union. What is more, the same company, which is based in the industrial zone Zip Buena Vista, in Villanueva Cortés, uses other anti-union strategies, such as organising a pro-employer "employees' association" that enables them to negotiate a collective agreement that suits their own interests and to undermine the union.

Mass dismissal of members of trade union leadership bodies: Starting on 21 June there were a series of dismissals of the members of the leadership of the union at the Tiara company (SITRATIARA). The first person to be dismissed was the President, Maria Zenia Gómez, followed the next day by the Treasurer, Laura Peña Bonilla, and on subsequent days by all the other leaders. So far 70 workers have been sacked, all of whom were trying to set up the union.

The company faces a reinstatement order but has failed to respect the labour authorities. It did not even allow labour inspectors to enter the plant and the management did to turn up at a meeting called by the Labour Minister.

Emergence of new trade unions impeded: In January the workers at the garment company Empresa Diamante APPAREL S.A. De R.L. obtained legal registration of a union that had been organised the previous year. On 22 March, when the union was due to have informed management of the formation of their time leadership body to the management it was too late, since the company had dismissed large numbers of the union members including the entire leadership.

On 28 November, in the maquiladora Dikies de Honduras, which is known for its constant breaches of workers' rights, one hour after the presentation of the legally-constituted union all the workers in its leadership body were sacked, together with others who witnessed the submission of the document. The national Federación Sindical de Trabajadores de Honduras (FESITRADEH) has submitted a plea to the industrial tribunal for the reinstatement of these people.

Threats regarding Labour Day celebrations: A member of the union at the Elcatex company complained that the personnel director, Soad Reyes, wanted to force the staff to work on 1 May and threatened to punish anyone taking part in the demonstration. Such threats are not new and the 200 union members are continually warned that the union will no longer be tolerated and receive various forms of ill-treatment to discourage them from doing union work.

Trade unionists arrested: In November, three members of the bank workers association ("Asociación Bancaria") were arrested by federal police when getting ready to attend a meeting to claim back unpaid wages from a local bank.

Interference in union affairs: The union at the National Agrarian Institute (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional Agrario, SITRAINA) complained in a press release on 28 September about the interference by the Director of the institute, José Francisco Funes Rodríguez, in the union's affairs. According to the union's leaders, the INA management had interfered aggressively in its internal affairs, making false claims about its work in public statements. This was being used by the administrators to try to discredit the denunciations that the union had made against them and against the laws they were forcing through in order to prevent any wholesale agrarian reform.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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