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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca8cc.html [accessed 30 September 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: 7,500,000
Capital: Tegucigalpa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

It remains virtually impossible to create or build up trade unions in the maquiladoras. Five companies used the same strategy of mass dismissal of members of unions that were being set up or selective dismissals of their leaders. A strike in a banana plantation confirmed the value of that weapon for defending workers' rights and freedom of association. The Bang Sang company forced a union leader to accept his dismissal at gunpoint.

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. in addition, members of the police and the armed forces are banned from forming trade unions and establishing collective bargaining. The Organic Law on the police force bans security guards from joining a union.

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.

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: Last 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.

The Minister of Labour submitted a bill that could restrict collective bargaining by requiring trade unions to have a membership of at least 50% of the total workforce, which would undermine their existing rights. The proposed legislation also replaces the term "collective agreement" with "claims list", whereas the current Chapter IV of the Labour Code contains the more precise wording "Collective Labour Agreement".

Special laws in the EPZs: The law allows the export processing zones to set additional limitations on the right to strike.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The year saw a combination of factors leading to popular discontent: the failure of the export drive expected following the signing of the FTA; the ending of the boom in migrants' remittances; political unease of aid donors owing to political corruption; and the combination of the sustained fight against privatisations and neo-liberal reforms with the start of a wave of food shortages. There were several strikes by public service workers in 2007, mainly in support of wage claims and against the selling off of public assets by the state.

Lack of protection of trade union rights: 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 trying to form unions are sacked and blacklisted, as well as being subjected to harassment, separation from their colleagues, and psychological and even physical abuse. Judicial processes are long and when the rulings do support the reinstatement of workers they are generally ignored by companies without any adequate follow-up by the State.

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 of the Ministry of Labour, corruption and lack of resources: The Ministry of Labour does not ensure that employers respect freedom of association, in accordance with its non-interventionist approach. In many cases officials from this institution go as far as justifying violations and getting the workers to accept them. 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, which have chosen methods for putting pressure on the employers, such as sit-ins.

Corruption is common amongst labour inspectors, some of whom even sell lists of trade union members to company managers. As this is compounded by the government's failure to provide adequate resources to the inspectors, the State is clearly not providing effective protection.

Collective bargaining: 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.

Worker sacked for his organising work: At the end of May José Mejía, a worker who had been employed for seven years at the Elcatex factory in the ZIP Tex industrial zone in Choloma (Cortés), was sacked, when his bosses found out that he was leading an organising drive within the factory.

Union leader forcibly dismissed: On 31 May, the Bang Sang company, located in Guanchías in the town of Santa Rita de Yoro, dismissed Adrián Morán, the president of the recently formed trade union. This took place in a violent manner as he was forced to accept his redundancy terms with a gun to his head. When the workers protested and demanded his reintegration the company responded by sacking 20 other workers.

Union registration impeded and dismissals aimed at destroying it: On 7 June, when the union finally managed, after three months' efforts, to get its official notification documents presented to the company Jerzees, in the Choloma industrial zone, the first five workers who were assumed to be members were sacked. The next day all the workers on the notification list were sacked, in breach of the legal protection from the State that applies in such cases. In all, more than 70 workers were sacked for organising the union.

Some women workers complained to the CGT that certain companies, including Génesis, in the Choloma industrial zone, had decided not to recruit them after the test and interview stage without giving any reasons. The workers were afraid that Jerzees had passed round a blacklist, on which they were mentioned as being trade unionists. In November, some of the dismissed workers were reinstated.

Mass dismissal for setting up union: The company Alcoa Fujikura Limitada (AFL-Honduras) sacked around 100 workers in June 2007 for organising a union there (SITAFLH). The company started by dismissing the main organiser of the union, who ran its Constituent Assembly, Lorna Redell Jackson. Her dismissal was followed by that of the 6 members of the steering committee and then the other members of the union, on a daily basis and in groups of up to 30 workers. An official complaint was sent to the Regional Labour Office and led to an inspection of the company. However, far from demanding the reinstatement of the sacked trade unionists, the labour inspectors got the workers to accept cheques that were handed over in the office by the Regional Labour Director.

On 19 June, in protest at the complicity of this institution, which was supposed to be protecting trade union rights, the workers occupied the offices of the Regional Labour Office. This action, coupled with closures of the entrance and exit to the factory, forced the Inspector-General, and even the Minister, to intervene in the conflict. However, by the end of the year, neither the inspections nor the negotiations had led to the reinstatements called for by the union, the workers and various national and international organisations.

Blocking of road results in the death of a demonstrator: Teacher Wilfredo Lara was shot in the thorax and killed whilst taking part, on 27 August, in the action of blocking roads that took place in some ten different parts of the country, organised by the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular (CNRP), which includes more than 30 trade union, political, peasant, teacher, student and indigenous people's organisations. The action was held to demand the derogation of various laws and in support of other demands. After learning of the death of Wilfredo Lara, President Zelaya ordered the Chancellor, Milton Jiménez, to engage in a dialogue with the CNRP representatives in order to find a solution to the conflict.

Mass dismissal and repression: the Star maquila's response to the creation of a union: On 10 November, the Star maquiladora that makes clothes for the American multinationals NIKE, ANVIL and NFL in the El Porvenir EPZ, began a mass dismissal by sacking 20 workers belonging to a union. Within three days the number of dismissals had risen to 58. This happened just three days after the Labour Inspectorate had informed the Ministry of Labour that a union was being set up there, the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Star (SITRASTAR).

This case of trade union repression by the company, through its immediate dismissal of leaders, founder members and supporters of the union in order to block its development, provoked a conflict that lasted over one month. Supported by hundreds of workers from the factory, the dismissed workers put pressure on the company by blocking the factory entrance, work stoppages, and occupying the Regional Labour Office. These actions were brutally suppressed by the police and the armed forces, which had been called in by the company. The workers were attacked with tear gas, beaten, arrested and assaulted by armed civilian personnel in balaclavas who continued their surveillance afterwards in this industrial zone.

Various attempts at negotiations failed to overcome the company's refusal to accept the trade union. On the contrary, management threatened to close down the factory if the dispute continued. The determined struggle by the dismissed trade unionists, combined with the solidarity of the workers in the factory and of organisations that filed complaints and exerted pressure at international level, ended up producing an agreement with the company's representatives and the US multinationals.

On 12 December, an agreement was reached to reintegrate the 58 sacked workers and pay them their wage arrears and to recognise the trade union. As a result of this struggle, the Ministry of Labour granted SITRASTAR legal personality and the Regional Labour Secretariat launched an investigation into the actions of the Chief Labour Inspector in el Progreso and his presumed connivance with the employers of the free trade zone El Porvenir to undermine the union. The workers and the union had been demanding the dismissal of this official.

Dismissal of the leader of SITRATERCO leads to a strike: The banana transnational Chiquita unfairly dismissed Porfirio Leiva, the Organising Secretary of the branch organisation of the union at the Tela Railroad Company, SITRATERCO, at the Indiana plantation. This dismissal followed several others that took place during the negotiation of a collective agreement. As a result, and to avoid the potential disintegration of the union, the SITRATERCO branch union general secretaries decided to call an indefinite strike against Chiquita to demand the reinstatement of the union leader.

On the night of 12 December the strike was called off when the company agreed to reinstate brother Leiva in his post, to carry out an investigation into the dismissals and to accept some other demands by the union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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