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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cae8c.html [accessed 19 December 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 was a bloody year for Honduran trade unionists. The General Secretary of the CTH, Rosa Altagracia Fuentes, was shot to death along with trade union leader Virginia García de Sánchez and Juan Bautista Gálvez, who was accompanying them. A month later, the leader of ANACH, Israel García, was gunned down and killed. Two leaders of SITRAFL received threats and were shot at by unknown assailants. Permanent staff at Lafarge Cementos were fired and replaced with subcontracted workers.

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 members falls below 30. 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 legal procedure to contest the decision and the normal process for dismissals is applied, which clearly affects the right to immediate reinstatement and, thus, the full exercise of trade union rights.

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".

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. 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. However, 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: In 2006, the President of Honduras submitted a bill to reform 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 was aimed at blocking trade union action and legalising its repression.

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

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The political situation has been complicated by the manoeuvring of the government and opposition parties in the run-up to the 2009 elections. There were tensions between the government and employers over international relations with third countries. Employers protested against the government's decision to increase minimum wages. The problems identified as most serious by the population are organised crime, violence, widespread corruption and the lack of decent work. Agents infiltrating trade union meetings were found with lists of trade unionists, social and political activists.

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 still being employed by companies to destroy trade unions is to dismiss 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 ultimately have to find new jobs in other companies in order to survive financially, so, in practice, even where 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, taking a non-interventionist approach.

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 is the creation of a parallel "association" that respects the management's interests and which they authorise to negotiate a collective agreement that suits them. This enables them to sidestep the real demands of the workforce and to neutralise the unions' action.

Violations of the right to organise: In January, maquiladora companies launched a series of measures aimed at dismantling the few trade union organisations remaining in this sector. The trade union at the PETRALEX factory reported that the company had dismissed the members of the factory's trade union committee for the fourth time.

General Secretary of the CTH murdered: On 24 April, six presumed gang members killed Rosa Altagracia Fuentes, the General Secretary of the Honduran workers' confederation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Honduras (CTH), leaving her riddled with bullets. Trade union leader Virginia García de Sánchez and the driver accompanying them, Juan Bautista Gálvez, also lost their lives. Investigators believe the incident was premeditated and have ruled out robbery as the motive as the police found Altagracia's wallet, holding a considerable amount of money, intact. The murders remained unpunished at the end of the year.

Crimes against campesino leaders continue: In May, Israel García, leader of the national association of Honduran campesinos, the Asociación Nacional de Campesinos de Honduras (ANACH), was shot to death by the bodyguards and legal advisor of Julio Paz, the manager at Diesel Express.

According to evidence given by ANACH leader Victor Bonilla, the motive for the crime was a ruling of the national agrarian institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario – INA) granting ANACH the right to lands it had been fighting for and which the manager of Diesel Express had been refusing to hand over.

Leaders listed and under threat: On 11 September, human rights organisations in Honduras reported that the national police was holding a list of recognised civil society leaders and activists, including teachers, indigenous and labour leaders, members of parliament, journalists, members of the clergy and even representatives of the international community, who are being kept under surveillance by the national intelligence services. The list was exposed when two plain-clothes police officers were stopped by the campus security at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), when following René Andino, President of the UNAH union.

On apprehending them, the UNAH security guards seized a list of 135 names, including that of the General Secretary of the CTH, Altagracia Fuentes, who had been killed earlier in the year, along with those of other trade union leaders, such as Israel Salinas and Daniel Durón, general secretaries of the national trade union centres, the Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras (CUTH) and the Central General de Trabajadores (CGT).

Anti-union dismissals: On 17 July, the cement industry union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Cementera Hondureña S. A. (SITRAINCEHSA), affiliated to the Honduran workers' federation, the Federación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras (FUTH), reported that the management at Lafarge Cementos were persisting with their efforts to destroy the union. The company was planning to close two sections of the quarries division (limestone extraction), to lay off seven employees and subcontract their work. According to the trade unionists, the move was yet another attempt to destabilise the union.

Workers sacked for forming union: In July, workers at Lido Pozuelo (owned by Mexican transnational Bimbo since March 2008), notified the management and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that they had formed a trade union. The next day Bimbo retaliated by firing 62 of them, including the union's founders, some of whom were pregnant. Ninety-eight percent of the workers are Honduran.

National union's head office raided: The Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras (CUTH) reported that its offices were raided by members of a criminal organisation on 9 September. Four men burst into the office, taking union leaders, activists and staff hostage and threatening them. They stole televisions, computers, projectors, money and mobile phones.

Women trade unionists shot at: In September, Lorna Jackson García and Juana Leticia Maldonado, the President and Vice-President of the union at AFL Honduras, the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la AFL Honduras (SITRAFLH), were shot at by unknown assailants. The two union leaders had been receiving telephone death threats since July, as well as being followed, intimidated and threatened with fire arms. Prior to this, Alcoa Fujikura Ltd. (AFL Automotive), an auto parts manufacturer, had fired Jackson but the union managed to have her reinstated. The company had then folded its operations in August 2008, blaming the unionised workers for the plant's closure.

Threats of closure to stop unionisation: In November, just days after blocking the first collective bargaining negotiations with the union, the Jerzees de Honduras maquiladora plant of Russell Athletic (owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.) was shut down in a clear bid to do away with the factory union. Its 1,800 workers were left jobless. Prior to this, the management had resorted to threats, intimidation and interference in the union's affairs to stop the workers from exercising their right to freedom of association.

According to a report by the Workers' Rights Consortium (WRC), the management had issued various statements informing the workers that the plant's closure was the inevitable result of the union's demands. Russell Athletic eventually offered to reinstate the unfairly dismissed workers and to pay the wages they had lost, but only after coming under strong pressure from some of its customers. A number of U.S. universities suspended their business relations with Russell Athletic as a result of the dispute.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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