Reports of former employer trying to coerce fired workers to vote for ARENA

reported by CISPES elections observers

Image: CEAL

Image: CEAL

The STIT maquila (textile factory) workers union has denounced, via our allies at the Salvadoran Union and Social Front (FSS) and the Center for Labor Study and Support (CEAL), that 1,200 workers were fired without being payed their legally required severance pay. The factory they were fired from, which produced produced products for Hanes, Lacoste, Fruit of the Loom, and Levi’s, closed and its owners have made an illegal agreement with the fired workers that attempts to influence their vote in the upcoming February 2 elections.

Legal representatives of the company made an agreement with workers, without including the union that represents the majority of the factories workers, to only pay them 50% of their severance pay, with the funds coming from the sale of the company’s machinery and finished products.  But legally, company representatives can’t remove the machinery from the Free Trade Zone because of money they owe to the Social Security Institute and Pension Funds.  These representatives are known to be linked to the ARENA party, whose candidate Norman Quijano is competing in the upcoming February 2 presidential elections. The implication for workers is that if they don’t help ensure that the ARENA candidate is elected on Sunday, then they will never be paid their severance packages. CISPES has received reports of this type of voter coercion, carried out by employers, in previous electoral periods, also.

Below is an unofficial translation of the STIT union’s statement, as published on CEAL’s website:

MANUFACTURAS DEL RÍO/CCC COMPANY ATTEMPTS TO CARRY OUT AN ELECTORAL MANEUVER

This past January 7, 2014, when the workers at Manufacturas del Río S.A. de C.V./CCC S.A de C.V. returned from vacations, they found the Factory closed, they were not permitted to enter the El Pedregal Free Trade Zone, and a flyer was given to them that had no signature, name, or seal.  It blamed their clients and the workers for the closure.  Later, on January 15 at the Ministry of Labor offices in Zacatecoluca, an agreement was reached with some workers to receive 50% of the severance pay they were owed by law on January 30th. The funds would come from the sale of the factory’s machinery and finished product.  And if there were leftover funds they would be divided evenly between the workers.

With regards to this agreement, we declare the following:

  1. THE AGREEMENT DOES NOT REPRESENT THE INTERESTS OF THE FACTORY’S MAJORITY UNION, AND MEMBER OF THE LEAGUE, (STIT), to which the majority of workers belong. The company and the brands in manufactures for have a legal obligation to pay 100% of the severance pay, and not merely 50%.
  2. The agreement CANNOT legally be implemented because it does not contain the names of the workers or adequate amounts, and because of this, the workers are being asked to sign blank sheets of paper to facilitate the paperwork. In practice, this puts the legal security of the worker’s severance pay in danger.
  3. The agreement an electoral motivation related to the upcoming February 2 elections. The agreement is contingent on the removal of machinery and products from the Free Trade Zone, which is not currently possible because the company has a Code Red with customs officials, due to debts it has with the Social Security Institute and the Pension Funds.  The company tries to justify this, saying that it hasn’t been able to pay due to government and institutional requirements.  With this threat, the company is trying to blackmail and negotiate its failure to fulfill its obligations with the Social Security Institute and Pension Funds. Furthermore, this is a crime, because it didn’t deduct premiums from the workers salaries originally.  Two days before the elections, the company is trying to influence the workers’ vote, encouraging them to not vote for the FMLN party (currently in government) and to vote for the right-wing ARENA party, to which the Salvadoran owners, lawyers, and legal representatives of the company (including the lawyer that signed the January 15 agreement) have always been linked.

We know that the Argus/Kaltex Group, directed by its owners, the Nicaraguan Roberto Bequillard and the Mexican Rafael Moisés Kalach Mizrahi, have the funds to pay the debts of the Manufacturas del Río y Central American Cutting Center companies, and that or more than 15 years the profits generated by hundreds of workers have contributed to that group.

Therefore, WE DEMAND:

  • That the company PAY its debts with the Social Security Institute and the Pension Funds, and, in the case that it cannot, that the brands that are its clients TAKE ON that debt.
  • That the company PAY 100% of the severance packages owed to workers and, in the case that it cannot, that the brands that are its clients TAKE ON that debt.
  • That the employment of the 1,200 workers from Manufacturas del Río be guaranteed and they be rehired at the Central Aerican Cutting Center Company, or in any other company that produces products for the brands that were formerly clients of Manufacturas del Río.

IF THE PRESENT IS STRUGGLE, THE FUTURE IS OURS!!!

Global President of the International Union League for Holding Brands Responsible

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