SITRAP members swell Mayday numbers in San José
Over 300 members from GMB sister union, SITRAP, joined the Mayday march in Costa Rican capital, San José. Most of them had got up before dawn to make the long journey from their workplaces on the Caribbean coast.
GMB urges MEPs to oppose TiSA
GMB has written to Members of the European Parliament working on the global Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), outlining our opposition to the agreement and stating that if the risks are not removed, the deal should be opposed (see our letter and further information on the EU Trade section of this site).
ETUC Congress in October 2015 adopted an emergency resolution warning of the risks of TiSA, which will restrict public authorities’ right to regulate and threatens workers’ rights and universal access to quality public services.
The price of being a trade union activist in Colombia
This is the price SINTRAINAGRO activist, Carlos Ossa Trejos had to pay for taking part in the struggle for workers rights at the Risaralda sugar company (see articles below). He and his striking colleagues were brutally assaulted in an unprovoked attack by riot police during the early hours of March 3rd , 2015. Carlos was shot in the face at point blank range and was then kicked, beaten and slashed by machetes before being left for dead. He lost an eye in the attack, had to be repeatedly operated on in hospital and was in a coma for more than a month. Doctors feared that he would suffer brain damage but he is slowly recovering and has pledged to continue the fight for justice on behalf of his members. As usual in Colombia, there has been no investigation into what happened and those who nearly murdered Carlos continue to operate with total impunity.
Striking Colombian sugar cane cutters win signficant concessions from employer
Two days after the brutal assault by the ESMAD riot squad, a historic agreement was reached between cane cutters union, SINTRAINAGRO and the Risaralda mill, in the presence of CUT (TUC equivalent) Executive members and representatives from the Ministry of Labour. Under the deal, cane cutters will be employed directly by the employer under permanent contracts of employment, thus abandoning the previous practice of outsourcing the work. It was agreed that there would be no reprisals directed against the strikers and some sacked workers would be reinstated. These measures should guarantee security of employment and decent work for the sugar workers but as SINTRAINAGRO President, Guillermo Rivera, (pictured addressing mass meeting) said, it is a shame that workers had to fight and suffer so much to protect their livelihoods.
Brutal Attack on striking workers in Colombia
500 striking sugar cane workers were brutally attacked by security forces in the early hours of March 3rd. The workers who are members of our sister union, SINTRAINAGRO, had called a strike the day previously to protest about the anti-trade union activities of their employer, the Risaralda Mill, and to demand collective bargaining rights. They were attacked by the ESMAD riot squad who fired tear gas at point blank range, beat workers with batons and poles as well as stealing their mobile telephones and money. Several workers were badly injured in the attack, including branch committee member, Carlos Ossa Trejos, who lost an eye when he was hit by a tear gas cannister and then kicked and stamped on by his attackers. This is just the latest in a dismal litany of attacks on trade unionists in Colombia and comes barely a week after SINTRAINAGRO President, Guillermo Rivera, was the victim of an attempted assassination. GMB has written to the Colombian Ambassador in London to complain and to insist that trade union rights and freedoms are respected in his country.
Attempted murder of GMB sister union leaders in Colombia
On Tuesday, February 24th, there was an attempt to kill the President of Colombia's agricultural union, SINTRAINAGRO, Guillermo Rivera, in Valle del Cauca. Paramilitaries shot at him and Union treasurer, Medardo Cuesta, and it was only the prompt action of the latter's bodyguard that saved their lives. 750 SINTRAINAGRO members and activists have been killed in previous years amidst a culture of almost total impunity. GMB has worked for many years with the union whose members work in plantations producing palm oil, sugar and, above all, bananas that are sold in British supermarkets under the Fairtrade label. The UK has a bilateral investment treaty with Colombia and the European Union recently signed a free trade agreement with the South American Republic despite widespread condemnation of the dreadful human rights situation there. GMB has written to the Minister for Latin America, Hugo Swire, denouncing this latest atrocity and demanding that his government lends its voice to those demanding an end to the violence.
In common with other trade unions affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, GMB is delighted that the remaining 3 'Miami 5' political prisoners have been released from jail in the USA and have returned home. The treatment of the 5 epitomised the USA's disgraceful behaviour towards its small island neighbour and the 50 year blockade has caused immense harm to the economy of Cuba and its people. That American politicians have the temerity to criticize Cuba for alleged human rights breaches while the USA maintains a concentration camp on illegally occupied Cuban territory is hypocrisy of the highest order. It is to be hoped that the Obama regime's welcome decision to restore diplomatic relations with the Caribbean republic will herald a new era of mutual tolerance and sweep away the last bastion of US cold war policy in Latin America.
Another trade union activist murdered in Colombia
Tomas Rodriguez Cantillo, a member of the workers' committee at the Candelaria and Arrocera palm oil plantation in the Magdalena region of Colombia was murdered on May 9th in circumstances that have yet to be clarified. His death occurred at a time that the SINTRAINAGRO Union was making a range of demands to the employer, Emma Perfecta Lacouture, a hostile firm who have been sacking its members. SINTRAINAGRO President, Guillermo Rivera, said that although there was no proof that Mr Cantillo's muder was linked to his union activities, it is well known in Colombia that to be a trade union activist is tantamount to a death sentence. He added that the Union was bringing pressure to bear on the authorities in order that a full investigation is carried out and the perpertrators of the crime are brought to justice.
GMB joins global protests against life sentences for Argentine oil workers
On Friday, February 28th, accompanied by a representative from the Committee for the Acquital of the Las Heras Oil Workers, GMB's International Officer, Bert Schouwenburg, delivered a copy of a petition to the Argentine Embassy demanding justice for four strikers sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a policeman during a demonstration in the province of Santa Cruz on February 7th, 2006. The petition has been signed by sympathisers from all over the world, including Argentine nobel prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel.The four, one of whom was a minor at the time of the incident, were convicted on the basis of false testimonies obtained under duress and torture. The case has attracted widespread condemnation from human rights groups who see it as reminiscent of treatment endured by workers during the military dictatorship that was removed from power in 1983. There have been a number of mobilisations supporting the workers in Argentina and the poster is notification of one such event in Buenos Aires.
GMB joins condemnation of World Bank's activities in Honduras and calls for an end to UK aid for killers
At its 2013 Congress, GMB passed a motion calling on the Union to put pressure on the UK Government to "have a rigorous look at the way taxpayers' money is given away in foreign aid." GMB had already been trying to engage the Department for International Development (Dfid)'s representative at the World Bank to find out if HM Government had supported its lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), in the disbursement of U$15 million to Honduran palm oil producer, Dinant. The funds were given over in November, 2009 at a time when Honduras was effectively persona non grata in the international community following a coup earlier in the year that ousted elected president, Mel Zelaya. Dinant's owner, Miguel Facusse, was identfied as a participant in the coup and US State Department cables released by Wikileaks showed that he had previously been implicated in smuggling drugs from South America. Much of the land turned over to palm oil production had been unlawfully seized from peasant farmers and in 2010 Facusse admitted killing 5 of them who were refusing to leave.
On January 10th, the World Bank's Compliance Adviser/Ombudsman (CAO) issued a damning report in which the IFC were taken to task for not complying with theirr own criteria during their dealings with Dinant. The IFC's response was wholly inadequate and together with 69 other civil society organisations, GMB has put its name to a joint statement condemning their failure to acknowledge mistakes. One of the signatories, Oxfam, has issued a press release with further details of the sequence of events: http://oxf.am/wYZ A meeting has been scheduled with the Dfid representative and, in line with the Congress motion, GMB will be pressing for a commitment that no more money is granted to Dinant, regardless of the circumstances. The UK is the biggest single donor to the World Bank and it is barely credible that taxpayers' money has been instrumental in bankrolling a company headed up by a drug dealer and self-confessed killer.
Costa Rica: Another triumph for SITRAP's legal department as four workers are reinstated
The Costa Rican Supreme Court has ordered the notorious, anti-trade union Acon Group to reinstate, with full back pay, four workers who lost their jobs on a pineapple plantation in July 2009. The Court ruled that Gerardo Fajardo, Cristino Hernandez, Allan Jose Jimenez and Rafael Angel Gutierrez (pictured above) were dismissed because of their trade union activities and not because of the need to reduce staffing levels, as claimed by Acon. SITRAP's lawyers had to fight a four-year legal battle to win their members' cases in the most difficult of circumstances. Conditions on Costa Rican pineapple plantations remain grim and Acon, who supply fruit to Tesco and Asda, are just one of many bad employers who give Costa Rica the unenviable reputation of being, arguably, the worst country in the Americas for systematic violations of workers' rights. GMB continues to support SITRAP, a trade union in the vanguard of the struggle for social and economic justice.
Matalan signs up to Bangladesh safety accord
GMB has welcomed clothing retailer Matalan's decision to sign up to the Bangladesh accord - a union-backed agreement - designed to improve workplace safety in the country, following the Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed over 1,000 textile workers earlier this year.
Matalan was one of eight UK retailers who had not signed the Bangladesh fire and building safety accord, which had already been backed by most of the big names on the UK high street including Zara, Next, Primark, New Look and Debenhams.
Several thousand members of the TUC's Going to Work online network have sent email messages of protest to companies who are not supporting the accord and at the TUC's annual conference in Bournemouth, Bangladeshi garment workers' leader Amirul Haque Amin urged retailers to do the decent thing and sign the agreement.
Matalan will join around 90 brands and retailers in funding inspection and safety training in over 1,700 factories across Bangladesh. However, the difference between Matalan and many of the other companies is that they support a mature system of industrial relations that includes recognition of GMB. During talks with the Union, Matalan informed GMB officials that their own system of inspections was superior to the accord but that they would also support the initiative.
Under the terms of the accord, Bangladeshi workers will have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions and be entitled to full lay-off pay whilst any repairs recommended as a result of safety inspections are completed. This represents a major step forward for employees in the country's troubled garment industry, which has seen regular workplace fires and accidents claim many hundreds of lives.
Free Huber - Call For The Freedom Of Imprisoned Union Leader
At 15.30 on Sunday 25 August the Colombian trade union leader Huber Ballesteros was arrested in Colombia. Huber was an official TUC guest for the upcoming TUC conference. A JFC led delegation of trade unionists and politicians from Britain, Ireland, Canada and the US had just met with him in Colombia in late July.
Huber will now be unable to travel to England as he is currently locked away in a prison cell in the Colombian capital. He is facing the outrageous charges of ‘rebellion’ and ‘financing terrorism’. JFC is campaigning for his immediate release. Please support our campaign by signing the petition here. And please share the petition with all your contacts.
Our fringe event at the TUC Conference in Bournemouth will be dedicated to Huber and there will be an update on the current peace talks. The JFC fringe is on Tuesday 10 September at 12.45 in Tregonwell Hall 1. For more information see here and please forward on to your contacts.
The arrest of Huber has been denounced internationally. The ITUC and the ETUC have made public statements calling for his release. MPs raised it as an emergency point of order in parliament. An article was also published in the Guardian.
Huber Ballesteros is a close partner of Justice for Colombia and an executive committee member of Colombia's largest trade union federation, CUT. He has been involved in organising national industrial action which has been taking place across the country for over two weeks. Strikers and protesters have been violently attacked by the police, and the Army have been sent onto the streets across the country. Nine people have been killed and 800 injured since the strikes began on August 19. President Santos publicly attacked the Patriotic March for their involvement in the strikes. As yet, the government has not negotiated with the majority of the strikers.
The timing of Huber’s arrest is a clear attempt to punish Huber for his trade union work. It is systematic of the continuing policy of the Colombian government to use the legal system to criminalise protest and silence political opponents.
Costa Rica : SITRAP get women workers' jobs back
In August 2007, Albertina Muñoz Castrillo was sacked by the cassava producing company Caribbean Best S.A. in Costa Rica's Atlantic zone. A year later, the same company sacked Consuelo Soto Jiménez, alleging in the case of both women that they had committed serious faults. However, as the courts eventually demonstrated, their real 'fault', from the employer's point of view, was to have joined the SITRAP trade union.
On 23rd July 2013, accompanied by the union's General Secretary, Didier Leiton, the two women went to their former workplace to claim their jobs back, as the Supreme Court had ordered. In the case of Albertina Muñoz, although the resintatement had been ordered by the court back in 2011, Caribbean Best had ignored the order. A successful meeting though led to both women being taken back on, and they started work again the next day.
Both women are receiving full back-pay and social security contributions for the 5-6 year period that it took to secure their reinstatement.
One of the changes that the current labour legislation reform package - scheduled to go before the Congress in the coming weeks – is designed to bring is to speed up this kind of case.
«Not only is it encouraging that the union is winning more and more of these individual cases, » said Didier Leiton, « but they are very important precedents for the companies to start to respect the freedom of workers to form or join trade unions in the plantations of this country. »
GMB has been working with SITRAP since the early part of the century.
Source : SITRAP, Siquirres, Costa Rica.
GMB signs cooperation agreement with union in Belize
On July 1st, 2013, the Political, European and International sub-committee of GMB's Central Executive ratified a memorandum of understanding with the Belize Workers Union (BWU). The BWU organises workers at Belize Sugar Industries, owned by American Sugar Refiners who also own Tate & Lyle sugars in London where GMB has a recognition agreement. The deal was reported in the bulletin of the IUF Sugar Network which carries news of the global sugar industry.
Belize Workers Union wins representation of contract workers
GMB's sister union in Belize, the BWU, has won the right to represent 95 contract workers planting sugar cane for Belize Sugar Industries. The workers took part in a ballot organised by the Government's National Tripartite Body and the full story of their success is here. Although the numbers involved may seem small, this constitutes a significant milestone in the rebirth of the BWU as an effective trade union.