(en) Nicaragua - workers sacked for joining union

Andrew Flood (ANFLOOD@macollamh.ucd.ie)
Wed, 16 Apr 1997 10:37:05 +0100 (BST)


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Subject: Nicaragua - workers sacked for organising Sender: union-d@wolfnet.com

Comrades

I have adapted a letter from witnesses for Peace (below) for union-d.

Kevin Brandstatter IWW Swindon

Witness for Peace 110 Maryland Ave., NE #304 Washington, DC 20002 202-544-0781 www.w4peace.org/wfp

April 11, 1997

Nicaraguan Workers Fired for Union Activity at NHI Maquila

The Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team reports from Managua that workers have been fired for union activity at the NHI apparel assembly plant (maquila) located in Managua's Free Trade Zone. The 1400 workers at the plant make jeans, shorts and denim dresses. Bugle Boy is NHI's major client, with other brands currently being produced including Arizona, Honors, Route 66, and "no excuses."

The workers have appealed for international solidarity (see action recommendations below).

Background:

Since February, 1997, 18 unionists have been fired from Nien Hsing International (NHI), a Taiwanese-owned plant, in violation of Nicaraguan labor law. The workers are not affliated to any particular labor organization, though the CTN-Autnomo (Central de Trabajadores NicaraguaCenses) assisted the workers in filing papers with the Labor Ministry.

The impetus for organizing stems from workers' frustration over poor working conditions. Abuses mentioned by the workers include:

- - Management cheating workers out of bonuses, overtime etc. - - Forced overtime, e.g. being sent home early if there's not enough work and then being required "to make up" hours on the weekend - - Low 13th month (Christmas bonus) - - Having to ask permission to go to bathroom; dirty bathrooms, timed breaks - - Night shift for 9 hours straight without a break (the Labor Code specifies a maximum of 7 hours) - - Frequent verbal abuse - - Physical abuse - - Firings for complaining or "talking back" - - Firings of workers who have reported in sick "too often" - - Refusal to allow workers go to the health clinic

On January 26, 1997, despite widespread fear of owner reprisals, 27 workers held a meeting to officially form a union. All 27 were men who worked on the night shift, in the washing and drying area. On Jan 28 they registered their union with the Ministry of Labor. This step is equivalent to asking for legal recognition under Nicaraguan labor law. The workers can then submit a list of negotiating points or demands, and the company is required, under the law, to respond within a certain time frame.

Following this initial activity, but before the workers could present a list of demands (pliego petitorio) two workers were fired Feb 6. Two more were fired on the 10th, 2 more on the 11th, 1 on the 12th and 3 on the 13th. More workers were fired in March, leading to a total of 18. The General Secretary of the union, Manuel Castillo, was among the first to be fired.

NHI said that layoffs were due to changes in the labor needs of the assembly plant ("reajuste de planta") and offered them all severance pay. But, according to the workers, NHI would have no reason to lay off half its laundry crew, and second, only unionists were fired. The fired workers all refused to sign their letters of dismissal and went to the Ministry of Labor to protest the firings.

The Ministry of Labor agreed that the firings were illegal and ordered the workers to be reinstated. NHI refused to do so and appealed the Ministry's decision. The Ministry turned down the appeal and declared that the order of reinstatement was still valid. At this point, NHI still refuses to take the workers back. Now the only legal mechanism left to the workers is that they go to Labor Court and get a court order to be reinstated. The workers absolutely do not want severance pay -- they want their jobs back.

Meanwhile, on April 1st, the union finally got the legal recognition (personaria juridica) which they had requested from the Ministry of Labor in January. (Since the Ministry considers the firings illegal, it did not matter that only 9 of the original signers of the union petition are still at NHI.) The workers are now formulating a list of demands.

ACTION RECOMMENDATION:

Fax a letter of concern to the General Manager of the NHI Factory. The fax number is 011-505-263-2073. You can send the fax yourself, or, to ensure a more timely response to this and other emergencies, sign up with the Witness for Peace Emergency Response Network - ERN (contact Witness for Peace for more information). Members of the ERN receive a monthly update on developments on urgent action cases.

Sample Letter (your letter can be in English):

Mr. Lucas Huang General Manager Nien Hsing International Managua, Nicaragua

Dear Mr. Huang,

It has been brought to my attention that there are problems in your factory regarding the treatment of employees who have organized a labor union. According to reports I have read, 18 workers were fired from Nien Hsing after it was discovered that they had formed a union. The Nicaraguan Labor Ministry has officially recognized the union, and has also submitted an order for the reinstatement of the workers to their positions. Yet, your factory has refused to rehire the workers. By doing so, the management of Nien Hsing is apparently violating Nicaraguan law.

As a consumer and concerned citizen, it troubles me that the clothes being produced for export to the United States are produced under such poor working conditions. Companies like Nien Hsing have a responsibility to provide a living wage and a decent working environment. Most importantly, your company has a responsibility to comply with local labor law. Unfortunately, Nien Hsing is apparently refusing to accept its legal responsibilities.

Mr. Huang, it is essential that Nien Hsing respect Nicaraguan law and rehire the workers. The workers should be compensated for the days they have not been able to work due to their unjust firings. Finally, and most importantly, workers' right to organize should be respected.

The US apparel industry is becoming increasingly aware of labor abuses that take place in factories such as yours. The US public is also concerned that clothing be made under decent conditions. With the mounting concern in the US on this issue, I believe it is in Nien Hsing's best interests to treat its workers fairly and respect their rights. For the sake of the workers, as well as the sake of future business in Nien Hsing, I ask you to rehire the fired workers. Please keep me informed about any decisions you take on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe

Address: 1234 Solidarity Street Yourtown, AK 19923

Send copies of the letter to your local Nicaraguan Embassy and

The Honorable Wilfredo Navarro Minister of Labor Government of Nicaragua Managua, Nicaragua

(END)

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