Date: Sun, 22 Mar 98 11:02:57 CST
/** ips.english: 511.0 **/
Women Maquila Workers Win "Code of Ethics"
By Roberto Fonseca, IPS, 18 March 1998
MANAGUA, Mar 18 (IPS) - Women workers in Nicaragua have won a 10-point Code of Ethics from the government that will regulate labor relations and conditions for workers in the country's free-trade zones.
"This is the result of five years of hard work - a long and difficult struggle, in which the maquila workers gave the best of what they had," said union leader Sandra Ramos, coordinator of 'Maria Elena Cuadra' - an organization for working and unemployed women.
The Code of Ethics, signed by the Minister of Labor, Wilfredo Navarro, recognizes the "historical demands" of women maquila workers, such as equal pay, protection from discrimination because of pregnancy and protection against abuse by factory owners.
Ramos, author of an essay titled "Free-Trade Zone: A Woman's Face," says this is the first Code of Ethics signed in Central America.
"Nicaragua is one of the last countries of the region to have entered the maquila process, but it has been the first to score an historical victory," she said. "I believe that we have had enough confrontation; our women need jobs and employment stability and they need responsible organization to ensure employment and their rights."
The maquila sector has been growing rapidly in Nicaragua since the free-trade zone regime was reactivated in 1992. In that year, maquilas employed only 1,300 workers and generated three million dollars in exports, but figures for 1997 put the number of maquila workers at 15,000 and the value of exports at more than 200 million dollars.
"Nicaragua is going forward and it's worth recalling that, during the 1980s, the eight North American companies operating maquilas were confiscated, and the Free-Trade Zone became a penitentiary area," said Gilbert Wong, president of the state- owned Free-Trade Zone Corporation 'Las Mercedes.'
The Corporation, which has expanded its industrial park to 115,000 square metres, currently is constructing an additional 16,800 square metre area that will house a new foreign company and provide jobs for thousands of workers.
Wong viewed as "positive" the signing of the Code of Ethics and its ratification by the government and foreign companies - most of which are Asian was a positive move.
The legislation ensures the right of workers to receive periodical medical examinations, training programs and social security benefits, and prohibits the hiring of child workers under 14 years of age.
"People have said that Asian firms are opposed to the right of workers to become unionized, but there are companies here that have two unions...in total, there are more than six unions in the free-trade zone," Wong said.
Union leaders affiliated with the opposition Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), however, have repeatedly complained they have been hindered in their wefforts to organize unions in the industrial complex. The Sandanistas called for a "go-slow" at two Asian-owned factories, to force management finally to recognise the union.
Ramos says work still lies ahead to ensure employers comply with the new Code of Ethics.
"The most difficult task will be to ensure that the companies abide by it", said the union leader, who also announced that this month a Code of Ethics monitoring group will be formed, with employers and members of the government.
The challenge now is to work towards an improvement of relations between workers and employers, and training middle management in the maquiladoras, Ramos said. She added that the Ministry of Labor would be asked to inspect payroll sheets in order to make sure that salaries paid to maquila workers were in accordance with legal stipulations.
"We are not a confrontational group; we are working with the government through negotiation and mediation", Ramos concluded.
In the next five years, the government is hoping for an even greater growth of the free-trade zones, and the creation of up to 50, 000 jobs. (END/IPS/rf/ag/if-lb/ea/mk/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service outside of the APC networks, without specific permission from IPS. This limitation includes distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media and broadcast. For information about cross- posting, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For information about print or broadcast reproduction please contact the IPS coordinator at <email@example.com>.