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URGENT ACTION: Colombian Flower Workers Strike to Protest Wage Theft!

URGENT ACTION: Colombian Flower Workers Strike to Protest Wage Theft!

The recent strikes began on November 16 when flower workers at the Guacarí plantation in Zipaquira, Colombia, near Bogotá, went on strike in response to Floramerica’s labor rights violations. These include withholding pay for more than a month and neglecting to provide other legally-required benefits for several months, including social security and health insurance.

On December 1, workers at several of the company’s other plantations went on strike as well. Workers were not paid on November 15 or 30, and have not received benefits for months. Union leaders are concerned that the company will use the current crisis as an opportunity to replace permanent workers with contract labor.

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The struggle at the Guacarí plantation highlights the systemic labor rights violations affecting flower workers in Colombia. On September 7, 2010, workers on the Guacarí plantation organized a union in response to the company’s failure to pay its workers in more than a month or make the legally-required health care and social security contributions for more than three months. Soon after the formation of the new union, Sintraguacarí, affiliated to Untraflores, seven prominent union members were illegally fired.

On September 18, the Sintraguacarí union went on strike, facing violence as the police used tear gas and physical force to intimidate strikers. Several workers were injured.

Guacarí is one of the plantations owned by Floramerica, which took over Dole’s flower operations in Colombia in 2009.

When Sintraguacarí met with representatives of Floramerica and the Ministry of Social Protection (Colombia’s Labor Ministry) on September 22, the company refused to give a timetable for paying workers and would not accept the union’s demands. Floramerica maintains that it is unable to pay workers as a result of the appreciation of the Colombian peso, and that it is incumbent upon the Colombian government to take action to address the issue.

Today, the situation remains the same. The company has not paid its workers in more than a month or made the legally-required health care and social security contributions for more than three months.

On December 1, workers at the Fragancia and Splendor plantations, where unions won collective bargaining agreements in 2008 with the support of USLEAP and others, went on strike. Workers were not paid on November 15 or 30, and have not received benefits for months. Union leaders are concerned that the company will use the crisis to replace permanent workers with contract or “indirect” workers who have virtually no legal protections and cannot form a union.

According to the Sunburst Farms website, the Nannetti Family purchased Floramerica-Sunburst Farms from Dole Fresh Flowers on January 16, 2009, creating one of the largest flower growing and distributing operations in the world. Although Sunburst has claimed in e-mails to USLEAP that it is only the flower distributor for Floramerica and is therefore relieved of responsibility to Colombian workers, its website defines Floramerica as the “growing operation of Sunburst Farms.” Regardless, it is the responsibility of both growers and distributors to ensure that they treat their workers with dignity and respect and abide by national labor laws.

Ironically, the Guacarí plantation is Rainforest Alliance-certified, highlighted on the Sunburst website as evidence of the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. Rainforest Alliance has agreed to look into the situation, but it remains to be seen if Rainforest will respond effectively to the blatant violation of labor rights standards at this plantation.

To learn more about flower worker rights and economic justice, visit the USLEAP website.

Take action now! Urge Sunburst Farms to respect the basic rights of workers at the Guacarí, Fragancia Herradura, Fragancia Ipanema, and Splendor El Rosal plantations and negotiate with democratic unions to ensure that workers receive what they are legally owed and are not replaced by contract or “indirect” labor. Simultaneously, urge the Colombian Minister of Social Protection to hold Floramerica-Sunburst responsible for past and present violations of worker rights.