Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 10:12 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nicaragua

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nicaragua, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec6228.html [accessed 22 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: 5,700,000
Capital: Managua
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Despite the change in political direction, companies continue to violate trade union rights, especially foreign corporations, which exploit a variety of legal mechanisms to overturn any rights gained or to destabilise and destroy trade unions. There are many restrictions on the right to strike.

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 2009

Background: The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warned that Nicaragua needs to resolve its internal political problems if it wants to see a return to economic growth in 2010 along with the rest of the region. Measures have not been taken to tackle weak governance and the democratic deficit. Following accusations of electoral fraud during the municipal elections of 9 November 2008, several donor countries suspended direct support, which had amounted to 600 million dollars during the previous year.

Anti-union discrimination: In a communiqué dated 24 February, the national trade union confederation, Confederación de Unificación Sindical (CUS), reported that the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry had still not responded to the requests for a meeting with the trade unions representing the workers employed by this Ministry, despite repeated requests dating back to January 2007. The CUS added that the government has not yet fulfilled the recommendations formulated by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association in 2008 and continues to violate the clauses of the collective agreement in a number of areas, including contracting, dismissal procedures, facilities for trade unions (offices, etc.), and the bilateral agreement with drivers, especially as regards pay reviews.

Companies oppose union organising: It is part of corporate culture to persistently oppose the free exercise of trade union rights, with the backing of professional advice from lawyers and managers. Unionised workers speak of constant attacks, harassment and other forms of pressure aimed at forcing them to leave the union or the company. Dismissals, including of trade unions' leaders or founding members, are the main strategy used to stop or prevent any attempts to organise. Employers often offer workers financial incentives to leave the union, to weaken the organisation by stripping it of its members. Employment relationships are changing and the increasing use of short-term or one-day contracts is making it impossible to increase union membership. Tactics such as changing company name, although this may seem like a formality, are also used as a way of de-legitimising the union or replacing members of the management with anti-union "hardliners". The export processing zones or maquilas continue to be the sector where the most workers' rights violations are committed.

Refusal to negotiate with legally established unions: A US multinational continues to refuse to negotiate with the unions legally recognised by the regional banana workers' federation, Federación de Trabajadores Bananeros del Departamento de Chinandega (FETRABACH-CST), in six of its plantations in the Chinandega region.

Independent unions suffer harassment and discrimination: On 10 February, representatives of the Boaco and Chontales regional independent trade union confederation, Confederación Regional Sindical Independiente de Boaco y Chontales, and the hospital workers' union, Sindicato Independiente del Hospital Alemán Nicaragüense, denounced the Health Ministry for the harassment and discrimination levelled against independent unions. The hospital management and the health workers' federation, Federación de Trabajadores de la Salud (FETSALUD), excluded the independent union from negotiations and signed a collective agreement scrapping a series of benefits enjoyed by the workers.

Reprisals against unionised workers: On 26 March, the bottling workers' union, SITENSA, denounced fresh reprisals being taken against its members by the bottling company, Embotelladora Nacional SA (ENSA), owned by the Central American Beverage Corporation (CABCorp), the Central American bottling operation of Pepsi Cola Company (PepsiCo).

It is not the first time that this multinational has shown such strong opposition to unions. In 2007, the united federation of food, agribusiness, tourism, service, commerce and allied workers, FUTATSCON, an IUF affiliate, managed to form a trade union of ENSA workers, SITRUENSA, but the organisation was dismantled within just months.

On 13 December 2008, the workers, backed by FUTATSCON at national level and by STIBYS and IUF at international level, managed to form SITENSA, in defiance of the company's opposition, but just four months later the unionised workers reported that the situation had become extremely difficult, and ENSA was once again proving to be overtly anti-unionist.

Employers renege on agreement with trade unions: In March, an agreement was reached between the unions, the CZF corporation in charge of EPZs and the Labour Ministry, whereby the workers would make concessions regarding the increase in the minimum wage to help employers cope with the crisis. In exchange, the employers agreed to take every step necessary to avoid lay-offs. The employers have totally disregarded the commitments made and the CZF completely failed in its attempt to ensure compliance with the tripartite agreement.

More dismissals at maquila companies: In October, workers at the maquiladora company VF-Jeanswear Nicaragua denounced the dismissal of nine workers, all members of a recently formed union. The dismissed workers called on the José Benito Escobar trade union confederation, CST-JBE, to back their cause.

Workers dismissed for unionising: On 15 October, 32 unionised workers went to the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, CENIDH, to make an official complaint regarding the violence they suffered on 27 September at the hands of security officers at the maquiladora company Sae-A Tecnotex on trying to enter the factory, to return to their posts. The workers were asserting their rights after being unfairly dismissed for forming a union. The Labour Ministry had nullified the dismissals affecting at least 300 unionised workers. One worker who was 6 weeks pregnant suffered a miscarriage as a result of the violent assault.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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