---------- Forwarded message ----------
Nicaragua labor situation
Letter from Pedro Ortega Mendez, Secy. General of the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Federation, C.S.T., 2 June 1997
Note: Here is a one-page summary of the letter from Pedro Ortega, followed by the somewhat rough translation of the letter itself. Questions, call me at 645-4102. Shelley
Nicaraguan labor leader Pedro Ortega Mendez, secretary general of the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Federation- C.S.T. (Sandinista Confederation of Workers), has sent out a call to the international community to support the demands of Nicaraguan workers for the right to organize unions in the Free Trade Zones. They are asking all organizations that support the struggle of the workers in the free trade zones to work in solidarity; to coordinate support actions for the approximately 35 workers in two companies (Taiwanese & U.S) who have been fired for union activity; and to demand that Nicaraguan workers have the freedom to organize unions, the right to collective bargaining and respect for human rights.
After a protracted struggle, a union formed at Taiwanese-owned Fortex achieved legal recognition in Dec. 1996. The signing of the first Collective Bargaining agreement with a foreign company in the Zone was seen as a major worker victory.
Following this success, workers quickly sought to legalize unions in three other factories: Italian-owned Ecco, a shoe manufacturer; Taiwanese-owned Nien Shing, which produces clothing lines (Bugle Boy & No Excuse) for J.C. Penney, among others; and U.S.-owned Foundation Cupid, which manufactures women's undergarments. Union leaders and other employees who signed on to the union were summarily dismissed at Nien Shing (a total of 28 people) in February, and 3 union leaders were fired at Foundation Cupid in April.
Ortega charges that the Ministry of Labor has collaborated with foreign investors to discourage the workers' right to organize, by informing the companies of the union's existence during the preliminary stages of seeking legal recognition. This gives the company a chance to fire the unionists before the union has actual legal standing under Nicaraguan law. Additionally, both he and the Foundation Cupid received visits on May 21 from U.S. embassy personnel, supposedly seeking to clarify the situation. Ortega was alarmed when the embassy functionary stated that the 3 women unionists had threatened to dynamite and destroy the factory, "an absurd and stupid" charge. Their concern is that the diplomatic personnel from the embassy are allying themselves so directly with a U.S. company.
Ortega asks that faxes supporting the workers be sent to the following people:
the Minister of Labor:
Also write to Mr. Kenneth Russo, owner of
J.C. Penney Company Inc.
Translation: Unionization in the [Free Trade] Zone
As a result of the events of 1993, the Textile, Clothing, Leather & Footwear Federation changed our organizing strategy, to work from the outside towards the inside. Thus, at the beginning of 1994 we formed the clandestine workers' commissions of the Free Trade Zones of Nicaragua. Then we took the organizing work to the neighborhoods, carried out a stage of clandestine union preparation, prepared the union leaders, and founded a clandestine newsletter called La Tijera (the Scissors) for internal circulation in the Zone. The owners considered it a crime to read the newspaper, and to be found in possession of the publication was sufficient reason to be considered a unionist. La Tijera helped us spread our clandestine struggle.
On August 16, 1996, the workers in the Taiwanese-owned Fortex Industrial decided to form a union, in order to exercise their rights and say "Enough Injustice." The documentation was submitted to the Labor Ministry, and as always this ministry put thousands of obstacles in the way of legalizing the August 16 Union. More than 5 months went by, and we appealed to regional forums, to the regional office of the OIT, and the government of Nicaragua was denounced internationally for not permitting the freedom to organize in the Free Trade Zones. Many organizations that fight for labor rights in the maquiladoras demonstrated their support, until we succeeded in pressuring the government to recognize the first union in the free trade zone on Dec. 23, 1996.
After drawing up the list of workers' demands and presenting it to the investors of Fortex Industrial, the Ministry of Labor proceeded to notify this company that there was a union. This news was taken very badly and these gentlemen began to pressure the members of the union. A new stage of unionization began at this time, but it must be pointed out that Fortex at first refused to recognize the union, then didn't want it to be called a union and later refused to negotiate the workers' petition of demands. However, it finally recognized the union and the first Collective Bargaining contract with a foreign investor was signed. The Free Trade Zone workers reacted quickly, and other unions were formed in the Taiwanese-owned company Nien Shing International, in the Italian company, Ecco, and in the North American company, Foundation Cupid. Three days after the union documentation from the Nien Shing company was submitted to the Labor Ministry, the union leaders were fired and soon afterward the members, thus beheading the union. The workers have introduced a complaint against the company in the second labor court. We are demanding that the union leadership and members of the union be rehired. Since Feb. 3, a total of 28 people have been victims of labor repression in the Nien Shing company. The struggle of these workers has been going on for more than three months.
In the Foundation Cupid Company, three union leaders have been fired for the same reason since April 27.
Our conclusion is that the Labor Ministry is giving out the names from the list of unionists to the companies, so that the company will then fire the union leaders and thus scare the maquila workers. The Ministry of Labor very openly takes sides, the government's goal being to have no unions because of pressure from the business owners in the Free Trade Zones, who want there to be no unions in order to freely continue their exploitation. Our union position is to continue struggling to gain respect for the freedom to organize unions, the right to collective bargaining and respect for the human and labor rights of the workers.
The National Federation of the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear unions of the CST [Sandinista Workers' Confederation] is asking for international support for the workers' struggle in the Taiwanese company Nien Shing International and the U.S. company Foundation Cupid. In both companies, the union leadership has been fired. In the Nien Shing company, the union leaders were fired on February 3, and the union leaders and the fired members (14) have persisted, and the case is in the second labor court. In the Foundation Cupid company, located in the first private free trade zone in Nicaragua, a union was formed and all the leadership were fired on April 20, in retaliation for having formed a union. We ask all organizations that support the struggle of the workers in the free trade zones:
Dr. Wilfredo Navarro,
Minister of Labor,
Lic. Gilberto Wong,
Srio. Ejecutivo, Corporacion de Zonas Francas,
We also ask that you write to the workers and unionists who have been fired, c/o the Federación Nacional de Sindicatos Textil, Vestuario, Piel
To the International Community:
Today we were informed that the Ministry of Labor canceled the legal recognition of the union formed in the Taiwanese company Nien Shing International in the Industrial Free Trade Zone. In so doing, they left the 27 workers fired by this company for having tried to form a union and achieve its legalization and registry by the Ministry of Labor unprotected by the law. These comrades have been in a very precarious situation for more than 3 months since they have no chance of finding work in any company in the Free Trade Zone.
The Ministry of Labor's decision confirms our suspicion that it was they who gave out the list of unionists names to the company before the union's legal papers could be finalized and the workers protected by the Nicaraguan law that prohibits the firing of a union leader. The attitude of the Ministry of Labor sets a bad precedent for the other three unions that the Textile Federation has organized in the Ecco Shoes company of Italy, Fortex Industrial of Taiwan and Foundation Cupid of the United States, all maquiladoras located in the Free Trade Zone.
We call for your support and condemnation of the government of Nicaragua.
You can send a fax to the Minister of Labor:
You can also write to Mr. Kenneth Russo, owner of
J.C. Penney Company Inc.
This company distributes clothing with the "Bugle Boy" and "No Excuse" labels which are made in the "Nien Shing" company in Nicaragua. We thank all the groups who have already expressed their support on previous occasions.
Managua 26 May 1997
TO: THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
By this means we inform you that the union of the Taiwanese-owned Nien Shing International company, located in the Industrial Free Trade Zone, has had its registry in the Ministry of Labor annulled, thus showing the interference of the Nicaraguan government in labor matters.
At the same time, the attitude of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor violates the norms and international conventions referring to the freedom to form unions and the right to collective bargaining and the rules which protect unionists from being fired. The Ministry of Labor puts itself on the side of foreign investors and takes away the unionists' defense.
In addition, in the North American owned Cupid Foundation, three union leaders have been fired by the Ministry of Labor, and these workers also are without protection.
Regarding this situation, the workers of this company had turned in a petition on May 7 to the departmental office of the Ministry of Labor in Granada, which was accepted on May 19 by the delegate of the Ministry of Labor, Dr. Ada Luz Lopez Noguera, Conciliation Attorney for the Granada Ministry of Labor (MITRAB-Granada).
This lawyer from MITRAB-Granada, sticking to the laws of the country, had scheduled Mr. Carlos Sandino, general manager of this company, to come in on Wednesday May 28, in order to begin the negotiation of the petition (Collective Bargaining Agreement). However, the Ministry of Labor in Managua did not like this attitude. In an inspection set up by the Ministry of Labor with the company and a group of workers, these were forced to renounce their affiliation with the union, that is, against their real intentions. Later, another group of workers gave their signatures of support to the union and the negotiation of the collective bargaining petition.
On May 21 a functionary from the United States Embassy came to the company in order to verify the events taking place in this company, a North American who came from Jamaica, surely because here in Nicaragua, labor is cheaper.
On May 21 a functionary from the United States Embassy met with me in order to hear about the workers' situation, and one of the arguments of this functionary left me very worried. He said that the group of three women unionists from this union had threatened to dynamite and destroy the company, something that is very absurd and stupid as well. We are concerned that diplomatic personnel from the U.S. are taking the side of the Yankee business.
On May 22 the Ministry of Labor in Managua resolved to disaffiliate the women union workers, based on the threat by the company's administration to fire them if they didn't say they had been forced to belong to the union. The union was thus left unprotected by the laws of our country.
On May 23, notice was received from the Ministry of Labor that the appointment for the negotiation of the collective bargaining petition, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on May 28, had been suspended.
This is the sad reality of our country, that labor violations are not only committed by businesses. We demonstrate the bias of the Ministry of Labor towards the investors with concrete facts and sufficient legal arguments. We show their intention to continue permitting exploitation and preventing unions in the companies of the Free Trade Zone.
A very curious fact is that in the next few days the Agency for International Development of the U.S. (AID) will donate $1,200,000 for the modernization of the ministries of labor in Central America and the Caribbean. The stated objective is to better ensure that the companies don't violate labor laws, but I believe that it is to take care of the North American companies located in the free trade zones and to not permit unionization.
More aid will come from the government of Spain, with the same goal of modernizing the ministries of labor, which will form a network for all the ministries of labor of the Central American and Caribbean area.
Faced with the advance of technology, we unions will find ourselves undefended in the offensive that the government of Nicaragua, through the Ministry of Labor, has unleashed against two unions in order to discourage our struggle in the free trade zone. Our position is to remain firm and no one is going to force us to our knees. Much less are we going to renounce our struggle, we will continue in our position, and neither threats nor blackmail will force us to retreat from our just demands for the freedom to organize, the right to collective bargaining, respect for our laws, and respect for our human rights.
Note: the company of the Yankee businessman produces women's underwear, Venchelle VDR #39506 SEARS/ Hills VDR #39503 Carlos Sandino, General Manager Cupid Foundation FAX 505-52224416
I hope to continue informing you about the situation in the free trade zones.
Pedro Ortega Mendez