The trade union of agricultural industry workers (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares: STAS) recently described the decision taken by the Ministry of Labor in Honduras that seasonal workers on melon plantations have no right to social benefits, social security, or the right to organise, as "very serious".
In addition, administrative decisions were taken "that seriously undermine the dignity of the workers in the melon farms of Fyffes/Sumitomo in the south of Honduras," said STAS chairman Tomás Membreño. In addition to depriving thousands of workers of their rights, the union's factories were declared illegal, while two unions were legally recognized. "Once again, we must denounce the collusion between public authorities and entrepreneurs, as well as the violation of labor and trade union rights, guaranteed by national laws and international conventions," he added.The Irish Fyffes company, which was acquired by the Japanese Sumitomo group in 2017, is one of the world's largest fruit traders and one of the largest fruit importers and wholesalers in Europe. More than anything, it is trading bananas, pineapples, melons and mushrooms. According to the company, it is the main importer of bananas "and the leading marketer of organic and Fairtrade bananas" in Europe. The company has been excluded from membership in the UK's Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) in 2017, due to repeated allegations of violations in Honduras and Costa Rica's melon and pineapple plantations. However, this does not seem to bother the non-governmental organization Fair Trade USA: in April of this year, it awarded Fyffes subsidiary Sur Agrícola de Honduras (Suragroh) a Fair Trade certification.
Among the worst offenses by the Fyffes subsidiaries Suragroh and Melón Export S.A. (Melexsa), denounced by Honduran unions and the Latin American branch of the International Union of Food Workers (Rel Uita), include the extension of working days and non-payment of minimum wages, overtime or leave. Social security contributions are not being paid and length of service is not taken into account.
Trade unionists also point to poor hygiene and safety conditions, as well as repeated cases of poisoning, the dismissal of female workers when pregnant and the creation of "blacklists". According to Membreño, the companies also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the STAS organisations. The workers that are collectively organized were systematically harassed, inside and outside the melon farms.
With regard to the newly formed Sitrasuragroh and Sitramelexsa unions, Membreño notes that these are promoted by the administrative staff of the two subsidiaries and are staffed by their confidants. "The only goal is to pretend that the rights in the plantations are respected, to weaken our international campaign." Since the beginning of 2017, the "Freedom of the Union and Fairness for Fyffes Employees" information and protest campaign is calling for global emails to be sent to CEO David McCann.
The Ministry of Labor's decision has set a very dangerous precedent for temporary workers in all sectors: on the one hand, they are denied social benefits and social security, and on the other hand, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining being denied. To counter this, STAS filed a complaint with the Supreme Court through its lawyer and will do so before more international bodies. In recent days, an international delegation has come to the area to gather information and data for a report to be presented during coming negotiations.