Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Paraguay

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 - Paraguay, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca76b.html [accessed 20 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: 6,200,000
Capital: Asunción
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Numerous strikes were held in the health and education sectors in protest at employers' anti-union practices, such as breaches of collective agreements or efforts to stop workers from unionising or demanding the payment of the minimum wage or contributions to the social security system. Journalists were confronted with repression and death threats. The police and army used violence to suppress demonstrations.

Trade union rights in law

Many restrictions: The Constitution allows both private and public sector workers to form and join unions. Article 289 of the Labour Code stipulates that "workers cannot form company unions if they have less than 20 members or union committees if they have less than 30 members". Workers may not be members of more than one union. Candidates for trade union office must work in the company and be active members of the union. All unions must be registered with the Ministry of Justice and Labour, and the procedures are cumbersome. Employers can file a writ opposing the registration of a union.

The law provides for collective bargaining and prohibits anti-union discrimination. There are few real sanctions to prevent discrimination, and labour courts are not obliged to reinstate unfairly dismissed trade unionists.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, but strikes can only be called for the sole purpose of directly and exclusively protecting workers' occupational interests. A minimum service must be ensured in the event of a strike in essential public services. Article 353 of the Labour Code sets so many prerequisites that it is very difficult to meet them all, and employers use these requirements to declare strikes illegal and sack the strikers.

No progress with legal reforms: The government has failed to act on ILO recommendations to amend legal provisions not in compliance with the Conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Monsignor Fernando Lugo, Bishop of the Diocese of San Pedro, decided to leave the priesthood on 29 March 2007 in order to present his candidacy for the presidency of Paraguay and asked the Vatican to consider him as a lay member of the Catholic Church. On 20 January, the Catholic Church denied Lugo's request and decided to suspend him from his duties "a divinis". The Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinating Board (CODEHUPY) reported various cases of police torture and other abuse, including of women and children, to extract confessions, punish escape attempts and intimidate detainees.

Private sector employers ignored anti-discrimination laws and antagonised and sacked trade unionists. The industrial tribunals take a long time to respond to complaints, with dismissed trade unionists waiting for up to eight years for their cases to be settled. Even when the tribunals order the reinstatement of employees, such legal decisions are often ignored with impunity. Another practice on the rise is for employers to sack workers before they have been employed long enough to be protected by law.

The unions have reported that in some instances the management create their own "parallel" unions to compete with bona fide unions.

Though the law provides for the right to strike and prohibits compulsory arbitration and reprisals against strikers and union leaders pursuing union activities, employers often do, in practice, take retaliatory measures. The courts are supposed to enforce decisions based on voluntary arbitration, but this procedure is virtually never used. Top-ranking officials of the Justice and Labour Ministries are allowed to act as intermediaries in disputes.

A large section of the workforce is involved in sub-contracted or informal employment. Given the legal restrictions on union rights, over half the workforce is unable to join unions and, therefore, to oppose the abuse of their rights by employers.

Azucarera Paraguaya SA (AZPA) violates workers' rights: At the end of May, sugarcane growers at Azucarera Paraguaya SA (AZPA), in Tebicuary, Guairá, blocked access routes to the sugar mill to demand better prices for the payment of the raw material. After they had blocked access to the AZPA plant for four days, the police intervened and surrounded the area to allow trucks in and out of the sugar mill. The five leaders of the demonstration were arrested.

On 2 November, a furnace exploded at AZPA, leaving three workers dead and several others with serious burns. The explosion was reportedly due to negligence on the part of the management.

Intimidation and death threats against journalists: In June, two journalists from Radio Chaco Boreal, Vladimir Jara and Víctor Benítez, reported that they had received death threats and that their telephones had been illegally tapped after reporting on alleged corruption within the National Anti-Drug Secretariat. The journalists requested that the district prosecutor investigate the incidents. By the end of the year, it was still not known whether the investigation had been opened. In August, Bartola Fernández, coordinator of Radio Teko Porá, in Puerto Presidente Franco, reported that she had received death threats, which she believes were linked to her criticism of the regional authorities' failure to provide basic services. Fernández reported the incidents to the National Congress and the Human Rights Department of the Senate.

FRIASA lays off 97 workers: In August, SEOF, the union of workers and employees at the FRIASA refrigeration company, launched a one-month strike. The stoppage, which brought most of the production at the plant to a standstill, was initiated following a workers' demonstration at the factory gates to demand the immediate recall of the 97 workers laid off, the reinstatement of a dismissed worker and the signing of a new collective agreement. According to the management, the layoffs were due to shortages in raw material, but the general secretary of SEOF pointed out that the management's decisions were anti-union and arbitrary, given that production output at the company was the same as ever and that those affected by the layoffs were, for the most part, union members.

Caña Paraguaya SA (CAPASA) tramples workers' rights: The company union, SOECAPASA, at Cañas Paraguayas Sociedad Anónima (CAPASA) denounced a wave of unfair dismissals and the company's noncompliance with a legal ruling ordering the reinstatement of two members of the union's executive, Antolín Noguera and Erwin Almada. CAPASA terminated the contracts of 11 employees, supposedly to meet restructuring requirements, at the beginning of August, before going on "to hire more people following the dismissals", underlined the union. Almada reported that the company was ignoring a ruling issued by a labour court judge ordering his immediate reinstatement, showing total disregard for the legal guarantees protecting him against discrimination as a trade union leader.

Violent repression of workers at Aceros del Paraguay: At the beginning of September, action by steelworkers at Aceros del Paraguay (ACEPAR) was violently suppressed by the police, using extreme brutality. Nicolás Caballero, general secretary of the Associated Workers' Union of ACEPAR, reported that the police practically massacred the workers. One of them, Lucio Nuñez, was shot in the face with a plastic bullet; he lost one eye and was at risk of losing the other, which was also affected. Vicente Gaona was left with a broken jaw. The police were reportedly inebriated and acted with savage brutality. The squad responsible for the repression was led by Officer Ladislao Torres, who was simply transferred and remains unsanctioned to date.

Street workers persecuted: On 14 September, seven street vendors from Salto del Guaira were repressed, detained and had their merchandise confiscated. Street workers have suffered persecution of all kinds at the hands of the municipal authorities. The municipal councillors – backed by the governor – passed a municipal ruling, affecting over 200 workers, placing a total ban on the activities of street vendors and peddlers, who have no other means of making a living and have long been operating in the city as self-employed workers.

Unfair dismissal of 14 workers: In November, some 30 drivers from Loma Pytä Transport Line no. 44 demonstrated to demand the reinstatement of 14 dismissed workers, mostly trade union representatives from line 44. The union members explained that the company was in the process of being dissolved and that the dismissals were a deliberate move to cut its staff and avoid the payment of its social obligations. The company employs 75 workers, 60 of which are union members.

Union bashing by the National University authorities: The health union SIDITIICS reported in November that its members were being persecuted by the authorities of the National University. The persecution commenced from the moment the union, composed of 99 per cent women, was formed. The report indicates that the director of the health sciences research institute, the Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Salud (IICS), Jorge Rodas, removed all the members of the union's executive from their posts as heads of department and arranged for the transfer, without justification, of union members, changing their working hours. The union denounced the disciplinary action taken against three leaders for reporting the anti-union practices to the Human Rights Commission of the Parliament.

BBVA manager meddles in union affairs: The manager of the Banco Bilbao, Viscaya y Argentaria (BBVA) of Paraguay, Vicente Bogliolo, directly meddled in the internal affairs of the trade union, qualifying its leaders as nonrepresentative and pressing the bank's employees to sign letters of withdrawal from the union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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