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Shrimp processing workers in El Salvador: Pesquinsa employees submit new application for union recognition

Campaign for Labor Rights Action Alerts, 8 August 1998

[This alert was written by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project: (773) 262-6502, usglep@igc.apc.org and posted on April 21, 1998.]

See ACTION REQUEST at end of alert

BACKGROUND: On November 28, 1997, in response to sub-poverty level wages and poor working conditions, 44 women who work at Pesquinsa, a shrimp plant in Acajutla, El Salvador that exports to the U.S., registered their new union with the Labor Minister. The union eventually grew to include virtually all of the 180 women who work in the processing section.

In addition to low wages, some of the problems that led the women to organize include: 1) Requiring workers to wait without pay for hours until the product arrives, then requiring them to work late into the night, long after public transportation has shut down; 2) Lack of protective equipment so that the women who shell the shrimp suffer from raw and sometimes bleeding hands; 3) Failure to pay regularly for the workers' legally required Social Security health benefits; and 4) Supervisors calling the women names, yelling at them, and ridiculing them.

On January 5, the processing section was "closed for repairs." (The company cannot legally just lock them out.) The workers were told that another factory is now doing the processing work. The factory has been closed and the workers without income ever since then.

In February, the Labor Minister denied their application for legal recognition on the grounds that 11 of the workers who constituted the union are "not employees of the company." The workers have provided legal evidence that they are employees and appealed the decision, but the Labor Minister denied their appeal. The case has now been referred to the courts. The workers think that business interests have asked to Labor Ministry to delay their recognition as long as possible in order to destroy the union through attrition.

Hoping to avoid a delay of six months to a year while their court case is heard, the women shrimp workers filed a completely new application for legal recognition of their union. They were required to submit a list of 35 names, none of which appeared on the original application rejected in February 1998. The workers, who have been locked out since January 5, are afraid that the Labor Minister will reject the new application on specious grounds in response to pressure from business interests.


Organizations and individuals are urged to fax the Labor Minister. A sample letter follows. If you rewrite the letter in your own words (always a good procedure), please include the reference to Carlos Orellana. Letters in Spanish are ideal, but English is OK. If possible, please also send a cc. to Hon. Antonio Leon, Ambassador to the United States, Fax: (202) 234-3834.

Dr. Eduardo Tomasino Hurtado Ministro de Trabajo y Prevision Social
Fax: 011 503 263-5272

Dear Minister Tomasino:

We are writing to express our concern about the new application for legal recognition for the union of workers at Pesquera Industria, S.A. in Acajutla. We have heard that the original application for recognition was denied by Mr. Carlos Orellana on dubious grounds and that his ruling in this case is now in the courts under appeal.

The workers, in order to avoid the long delay required to seek justice in the courts, have reconstituted their union and submitted a new application. Meanwhile they continue to be illegally locked out of the factory and without pay.

We understand that Mr. Orellana is responsible for processing the second application. We hope that your Ministry can respond promptly and correctly to the union's valid request for legal recognition and that the basic rights of these workers to form a union are not denied.


It is also vitally important to let the workers know that they are not standing alone in this difficult time when they are receiving no wages and waiting for the factory to reopen. Letters of support to the workers should be faxed to 011-503-260-1501 or, if a fax isn't possible, mail letters to them c/o R. Doumitt, VIPSAL 401, P.O. Box 52-5364, Miami, FL 33153-5364. (Again, letters in Spanish are ideal; letters in English are ok.)

Contributions are urgently needed for food and other necessities. Checks should be sent via US/Guatemala Labor Education Project (US/GLEP), P.O. Box 268-290, Chicago, IL 60626. Earmark your donation for the Pesquinsa workers.

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