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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6620832.html [accessed 20 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

Honduras is caught up in a spiral of violence. Being a trade unionist or a member of the Resistance Front implies serious risks. Several social and trade union leaders have been confronted with death threats and attempts on their lives. On the first anniversary of the coup d'état overthrowing President Manuel Zelaya, the population took to the streets to call for the creation of the Constituent Assembly planned by the former leader. In August, the workers' confederations and teachers' organisations held massive demonstrations in the main cities of Honduras to demand an increase in the minimum wage. Three trade unionists were murdered in 2010. The strategies deployed by employers, with the regime's support, to destabilise and weaken the trade union movement range from using hired killers to measures such as subcontracting.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Numerous restrictions apply to trade union rights despite initial guarantees. The law recognises the right to form and join trade unions. However, at least 30 workers are required to create a union, and there can only be one union in any given establishment. Foreigners enjoy limited freedom of association as they can not be elected to union leadership positions, and the law requires that 90% of a union's members must be Honduran nationals. While the law awards some protection to workers trying to form a union and to the union's leadership, the provisions are lacking especially concerning anti-union discrimination and dismissal.

The right to collective bargaining is recognised, but the Labour Code restricts the themes that can be included in bargaining. In addition, public employees are not allowed to conclude collective agreements, and collective disputes even in non-essential public services are subject to compulsory arbitration.

The right to strike is also coupled with restrictions, and an inordinate two-thirds of the votes of the total union membership is required to call a strike. Federations and confederations may not call a strike. Public employees may not take part in solidarity strikes, and employees of state-owned enterprises must give six month's notice or obtain government approval before striking. Finally, the authorities have the power to end disputes in certain services.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: In May, the Supreme Court of Justice in Honduras dismissed four judges, an ombudsman and a public prosecutor after initiating proceedings against them for defending democracy and a judicial system that respects citizens' basic rights. In 2010, organisations tracking the human rights situation in Honduras pointed to serious violations, such as extrajudicial executions committed by police and state security officers, arbitrary detentions and the disproportionate use of force by security officers since the coup, limitations on the freedom of movement and trade union rights, people trafficking and the failure to effectively apply the labour and child labour laws. A large part of the population continued to be affected by poverty and the lack of decent work, pushing them into the informal economy as the only means of survival. Murders of social, trade union and human rights activists were frequent. The public sector was brought to a standstill by the protest held by workers in support of the demand for pay rises.

Companies shirk their responsibilities: The procedures to secure the reinstatement of an unfairly dismissed worker are lengthy, slow and costly. Even when courts order that dismissed workers should be reinstated, employers often ignore the decision and refuse to take them back. Reports indicate that employers use a wide range of tactics to destroy the unions, some legal (such as the filing of appeals for the dissolution of unions by the courts), others illegal (such as reprisals and threats against trade union leaders and members). The Department of Labour takes no action to protect workers' rights, arguing that it takes a non-interventionist approach to companies' internal affairs.

Discrimination and poor application of labour laws: The law prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender, disability or ethnic origin. However, women are concentrated in low skilled, low paid jobs and do not receive equal pay for work of equal value to that of their male colleagues. This constitutes a real and serious barrier to the unionisation of women. Indigenous peoples face discrimination in access to employment. Child labour is widespread, especially in agriculture, mining, workshops and domestic labour.

Inspections to ensure compliance with the labour laws, including those on child labour, are rare.

The labour legislation also applies to export processing zones, but it is nonetheless difficult to organise unions in them.

Temporary work: a strategy to undermine trade union rights: Trade union organisations denounced that the Work and Opportunities Activation Programme (PACTO) approved by the Legislative Chamber contains a number of provisions aimed at undermining labour and trade union rights. The bill is aimed at imposing and favouring temporary employment, denying permanent work and thus violating the right to job stability and trade union organising.

In the maquilas, transnational textile brands, producers, and retailers subcontract Honduran companies, which employ workers, usually temporary, for 59 days. Only 1.5% of workers are unionised and less than 0.5% are covered by collective agreements. The same is the case in the cement industry, where only 9% of the labour force is unionised. At INCESA, labour outsourcing has led to the loss of at least 220 permanent jobs held by workers belonging to a union.

The drinks industry is another example. At the brewing company Cervecería Hondureña as many as 34 intermediaries and contractors supply at least 733 workers; only 6% of these workers are affiliated to the social security system. In the sugar industry, only 6% of the labour force is unionised. The union membership rate in the port sector is 27%. In the banana sector, the traditional unions most affected include those representing workers at transnational banana companies. Union membership has fallen to 4,400 and the combined workforce at the two banana transnationals amounts to approximately 12,000.

Criminal violence against trade unionists and social leaders: On 3 February, Vanessa Zepeda Alonzo, an active member of the resistance and the social security employees' union, the Sindicato de Empleados de Seguridad Social, was found dead in Tegucigalpa. According to witnesses at the scene, her body had been run over by a car.

On 15 February, Julio Funes Benitez, another member of the resistance movement and an activist within the aqueduct and sewage workers' union SITRASANAA (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Servicio Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados) was shot outside of his home in the department of Olancho.

On 14 March, Nahúm Palacios was shot several times and killed whilst driving his car. He was the news director at Aguán TV, Channel Five, and had given wide coverage to the protests held by the resistance movement as well as politically sensitive issues, such as the agrarian dispute in Aguán.

On 23 March, Manuel Flores was murdered while he was working at his school, the Instituto San José de Pedregal. The act bore all the features of a hired killing. Flores was a member of the Central Executive Board of the middle school teachers' union COPEMH (Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media), affiliated to the national trade union centre CUTH (Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras).

On 12 June, José Luis Baquedano, deputy general secretary of the national union centre CUTH, was shot at by armed men. He escaped uninjured. The trade union leader is also a member of the National Resistance Front, FNRP. Shortly prior to this attack, Carolina Pineda, the finance secretary of the secondary teachers' union COPEMH (Coordinadora Nacional de Profesores de Enseñanza Secundaria) and a leader of the fight against the coup, suffered an attempt on her life by a group of men who attacked the vehicle she was driving. She had received a number of death threats.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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