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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Honduras

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 - Honduras, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
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

On 28 June, a coup d'état broke with the legal and social stability in Honduras. The post-coup violence claimed the lives of at least 12 trade unionists. The main targets of the repression were the members of the National Resistance Front against the Coup, which groups trade union centres and numerous civil society organisations, including women's and youth groups.

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 2009

Background: On 28 June, constitutional President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a coup d'état and replaced by Roberto Micheletti as the de facto leader of Honduras. The new government was not recognised by any country or international institution. In addition to the 20 people killed (including 12 trade unionists), over 500 were injured and some 3,000 were arrested in the repression that followed the coup. Coup opponents also faced countless human rights violations, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, death threats, physical attacks and widespread intimidation. The main targets of the attacks were the National Resistance Front against the Coup, a movement defending democracy and the rule of law grouping trade union centres, civil society organisations, women's and youth groups. Press and radio stations supporting the legitimate government were raided and closed down; numerous journalists were physically and mentally tortured. The global economic crisis has also had a serious impact on Honduras and 20,000 job losses were registered over the year.

Union-busting strategies: Despite the legal recognition of trade union immunity protecting union representatives against unfair dismissal, the main strategy still being employed by companies to destroy unions is to fire all their leaders, often at the very moment the union is founded, to prevent its consolidation and growth. As the reinstatement procedure is very slow, those affected ultimately have to find new jobs in other companies in order to survive financially. Even in cases where they are reinstated, the conditions for forming a union are no longer there, as the staff has changed and so the whole organising process has to be started again, more or less from scratch.

Companies also use other ways of blocking trade union organising at all costs, such as filing appeals for the dissolution of the union. Where a union does exist in a company, the management deploys relentless union-busting tactics, making arbitrary demands and threats, taking reprisals and ill-treating union members.

Complicity of the Labour Ministry, corruption and lack of resources: The Labour Ministry does nothing to ensure that employers respect freedom of association, taking a non-interventionist approach.

Corruption is common amongst labour inspectors, some of whom go as far as selling lists of trade union members to company managers. This, compounded by the government's failure to provide inspector's with adequate resources, goes some way towards explaining the state's ineffectiveness in protecting labour rights.

Fear of reprisals: Since the coup d'état, all union activities have been restricted by the fear of being attacked at any events or meetings that may be held. All trade union leaders were under threat.

Trade union rights not protected: In practice, workers have no adequate legal protection against anti-union discrimination. They are harassed and even sacked for engaging in union activities. Workers trying to form unions in the export processing zones are sacked and blacklisted, as well as being intimidated, separated from their colleagues, mentally harassed and, in some instances, physically assaulted. 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.

Collective bargaining: One method used by employers to undermine the free exercise of collective bargaining rights is the creation of a parallel association that responds to the management's interests and which they authorise to negotiate a collective agreement that suits them. This allows them to circumvent any genuine workers' demands and to neutralise any trade union action.

Serious violations against women trade unionists' rights: Serious attacks on women trade unionists' rights were registered throughout the year, such as the rape and beating suffered by teaching trade union representative, Irma Villanueva, at the hands of four police officers; the verbal and sexual assault on Sister Reyna del Carmen Rodríguez by the security forces; the attack on Alba Leticia Ochoa, brutally beaten during a peaceful demonstration; or the case of Agustina Flores López, a member of the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, who was ruthlessly beaten by the police, in public, and in spite of wide media presence filming the assault.

A group of feminist, indigenous and campesino women were violently dislodged from the National Women's Institute (INAM) in Honduras, which they were peacefully occupying. As many as 19 testimonies were gathered by the Feminist Observatory regarding violence against women, bearing witness to the harassment, violence and sexual attacks on women by the security forces since the coup d'état.

Trade unionists beaten, arrested, tortured and murdered following the coup d'état: At least 12 trade union activists have been assassinated since the coup overthrowing Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in June. The killings took place during protests and even in the victims' own homes. Over 125 trade union leaders were held in illegal detention.

Bomb in trade union head office: In July, a bomb exploded at the head office of the drinks industry workers' union, Trabajadores de la Industria de la Bebida y Similares (STIBYS). No one was injured, fortunately, as the explosion took place shortly after the members had left the premises after attending the funeral of an assassinated trade union leader.

Unionised teachers murdered: On 30 July, Roger Abraham Vallejo, a primary school teacher and member of the teaching union, Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH), was shot in the head during a demonstration. Another teacher and member of COPEMH, Martín Florencio Rivera, died after being stabbed 27 times on leaving Vallejo's funeral service.

August saw further intimidation of unionised teachers, with the brutal beating of Saturnino Sánchez, president of the teaching union, Colegio Profesional Superación Magisterial Hondureño (COLPROSUMAH).

Civil society organisations attacked: On 12 August, unknown assailants shot at the offices of Vía Campesina in Honduras, coordinated by campesino leader Rafael Alegría. The shooting constitutes a clear attack on the social organisations participating in the National Resistance Front against the Coup d'État (FNRP) and its leaders.

Military forces storm National Agrarian Institute: On 30 September, within hours of the "state of exception" being declared, members of the military police stormed the National Agrarian Institute (INA) in Tegucigalpa, bringing an end to the 60-day occupation staged by 60 campesinos seeking to protect their land title deeds filed at the institute. The campesinos were initially transferred to police stations and later charged with sedition.

Among the documentation the campesinos were protecting were hundreds of files related to disputed land cases that were on the point of being settled in favour of campesinos just prior to the coup d'état. In mid-2008, President José Manuel Zelaya had passed Executive Decree 18-2008 to bring an end to land disputes dating back 30 years or more. Landowners appealed against the Decree on various occasions, to delay its implementation.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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