Fyffes sets up parallel unions: Honduras’ increasingly tainted melons

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In May, the Irish multinational corporation Fyffes—recently purchased by Japanese giant Sumitomo—had its membership in the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI)1 suspended following several reports of labor and union rights violations in the company’s melon and pineapple plantations in Honduras and Costa Rica. But instead of mending its ways, Fyffes has chosen to continue with its antiunion practices.
In June, leaders of the Union of Agroindustry and Related Industry Workers (STAS) were alerted by reliable sources that something unusual was going on in the melon companies owned by Fyffes.
I was told that a group of workers of the company Suragroh2 had applied to form a union, and that a group of Melexsa workers was doing the same,” Tomás Membreño, general secretary of STAS, told La Rel.
We looked into it and found that two applications had indeed been filed on June 2 and 30 at the central offices of the Ministry of Labor in Tegucigalpa,” he added.
According to the information gathered, these two unions (Sitrasuragroh and Sitramelexsa) are being organized by administrative staff from the Fyffes subsidiaries.
They’re engineers, supervisors, area chiefs. They all occupy positions of trust,” Membreño said.
According to this labor leader, Fyffes is forming parallel unions to give the impression that it respects labor and union rights.
According to Membreño, the company thinks that in this way it can weaken the international campaign launched as a result of the reports made by STAS, with the support of allied national and international organizations.
On the one hand, it seeks to strengthen its position in the discussions with the IUF and Banana Link to lift the ETI suspension, but at the same time it tries to hinder STAS’ attempts to expand to other agroindustry sectors,” Nelson Núñez, technical advisor of Festagro,3 explained.
Fyffes clearly displayed its antiunion stance last year, when in three separate opportunities it penalized workers who had dared to form a subdivision of STAS by firing some and failing to rehire others.
Insisting with the false argument that temporary workers cannot form unions, Fyffes has never acknowledged STAS as a legitimate representative of its workers, and it has refused to sit down to negotiate towards solving the many problems faced by workers.
In several occasions, the labor organization has denounced grueling work days, wages below the minimum, no overtime or proportional vacation pay, and failure to compute seniority and make social security contributions.
It has also reported poor sanitary and safety conditions, the firing of pregnant workers, and blacklisting.
We have met with the Labor Minister and informed the organizations that support us. We are also looking into the legal aspects of challenging the forming of these pro-management unions,” Núñez said.
Giorgio Trucchi, Managua 
Reproduced from: http://www.rel-uita.org/
Photos: Giorgio Trucchi    
1 An alliance of companies, non-governmental organizations, and unions committed to working together to identify and further the implementation of codes of labor practices, including monitoring and independent verification.
 2 The three Fyffes subsidiaries in Honduras are Sur Agrícola de Honduras (Suragroh), Melon Export S.A. (Melexsa), and Soleado S.A. (Solesa).
 3 Federation of Agroindustry Workers’ Unions.