Pablo Lopez - Costa Rican pineapple worker and SITRAP union member

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Background: Pablo works on PinaFrut pineapple plantation owned by national producer Grupo Acon, in the South Atlantic region of Costa Rica. He has been a SITRAP activist for 4 years. In 2006 and 2008 Pablo wrote, on behalf of a group of workers, two ‘Letters to the outside world’ (see link below) denouncing conditions and in particular the repression faced by trade union members.

“After the first public letter I wrote in 2006 conditions did get better on the plantation but only for a short time- after about a year things started to get worse again. In July 2008 a complete deterioration began- wages were lowered, workers were being treated badly, hours got worse and we were reorganised into shifts.

I’m the only union member in my work team. Other workers want to join but they are scared they will lose their job and won’t be able to feed their families. Although I have spoken out publicly about the conditions I haven’t been dismissed. I believe this is because the company know that people are watching what happens to me internationally. If they keep me it also means they can say that they allow trade unions.

They change my shifts regularly. I’m now forced to work the night shift, from 4pm to 12pm. I live outside the plantation and travelling back home late at night is very dangerous. There are snakes in the plantations at night and these often bite workers and can lead to death- 3 workers have been killed this way in the last year.  

They’ve also changed my work to the lower paid jobs, such as weeding or collecting waste. My wage rate ranges from 150,000 (€222) to 80,000 (€118) each two week period. The wages are paid by piece rate but the rates vary for different jobs. The lowest paid job is weeding - this is often done using subcontracted workers. We get paid by the amount of weeds we collect- if there are naturally less weeds in an area we therefore get paid less. If there’s no weeds we don’t get paid!

Harvesting and seeding are the best paid jobs, you can earn more if you work really hard. Harvesting is paid by the kilo depending on how hard the harvest is, the accessibility of the fruit. However, the company weighs the fruit so we never know how much we should be paid and if the company is paying us less than they should be. Also, if the machine breaks we don’t get paid- they don’t recognise hours if we have to stop at any point during the day for issues outside our control.

There have also been worker complaints about wages but the company says they can’t afford to pay more. We do get paid higher than minimum wage but not when you compare it to the hours we work- we have to work over the 8 hour period. Many workers are in debt- I’ve got a debt of over $1,000. A decent wage would be at least twice what we earn. The cost of living keeps increasing but wages never increase.

The rates are all decided by the company in collaboration with the Permanent Committees. We have one union member in the PC but its two against one. There’s no capacity for the workers to bargain and the PC just accepts everything- they accept whatever the managers suggest.

Another issue is the dust on the plants. A white liquid is used to protect the soil- the liquid dries out in the sun and turns into a dust which the workers then breathe in during their work. The workers want masks but if they have them it would make breathing difficult and it’s an obstacle when we have to work so quickly. The health impacts of the dust that I’ve experiences are a blocked nose and sinuses and headaches.

The workers have made multiple complaints to the Ministry of labour but nothing has ever come of it, the Ministry is manipulated by the companies.

21st March 2010