A Valentine for Flower Workers
Shortly before one of the biggest flower-giving holidays of the year, flower workers in Ecuador have petitioned their government for permission to establish an industry wide union. Their request has been denied twice before by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Labor, so the workers are also turning to consumers in the U.S., where half of Ecuador’s flowers are sold, asking PANUPS readers to urge Ecuadorian officials to certify the union. A link at the end of this article opens a sample email to the Ministry of Labor in Quito. The flower workers have chosen to name their new union for Valentine’s Day, Federación de Trabajadores Floricultores 14 de Febrero, a testament to the significance of consumer purchases on this day.
The perfect blooms that workers in Ecuador and other Central American countries grow, cut, and pack for export rely on intensive use of highly hazardous pesticides. The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) reports that two thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian floriculture workers experience health problems as a result of their work. Child labor is increasingly common in the sector. According to the International Labor Organization, fully 20% of workers in Ecuadorian floriculture are children and more than 70% of floriculture workers in Colombia and Ecuador are women. The ILRF reports that illegal pregnancy tests are often required at the time of hiring, and pregnant workers are fired. Some plantations force workers to work overtime without overtime pay before flower-giving holidays, and have fired workers for union organizing activities. Plantations increasingly hire workers through sub-contractors, who provide less training, transportation, and benefits than workers hired directly. Subcontractors are also able shift workers from one plantation to another to avoid union organizing efforts.
An industry wide flower worker union would provide workers with the collective strength to counter these abuses. Currently, workers at only four of Ecuador’s 300 flower companies have managed to organize unions. Those four existing unions have joined the petition for an industry wide federation, understanding that it will make them all stronger.
Floriculture workers in Colombia have a sector wide union, Untraflores, which brought international attention to the pesticide poisoning of 200 workers at a large floriculture facility near Bogotá in 2003 (see PANUPS, Workers Poisoned in Colombia, December 11, 2003). Late last year Untraflores gained certification for the first local union of flower workers at a Dole plantation in Colombia. Since it was certified, the new union has gained members and none have been fired, despite management threats.
If certified, Federación de Trabajadores Floricultores 14 de Febrero would represent flower workers at any plantation in the country, and enable single workers to join. In the absence of a sector wide organization, at least 25 workers at a facility need to petition to form a union. While organizing themselves into a union, workers are the most vulnerable to firing or other repercussions for union activity.
In 2002 and again in 2003 floriculture workers petitioned the Ecuadorian Minister of Labor for permission to form a union, as allowed under the Ecuadorian Labor Code. The Minister denied both requests on technical grounds. The ILRF reports that the Labor Ministry asked Expoflores, the association of Ecuadorian flower producers and exporters, to weigh in on the workers’ request. “The exporters’ association,” argues ILRF “should not have the right to deny the workers the freedom to form this type of union.”
On February 9, 2005, workers applied for a third time, and have asked consumers around the world to send a Valentine to the Ecuadorian Minister of Labor, urging him to allow the Federación de Trabajadores Floricultores 14 de Febrero to represent all of the nation’s floriculture workers.
Visit our new Action Center to email your letter/Valentine to Quito
For more information on labor conditions at Ecuadorian flower plantations, see the ILRF appeal, http://www.laborrights.org/actions/index.php.
Sources: International Labor Rights Fund, Fairness in Flowers Campaign, http://www.laborrights.org; PANUPS, Action Alert, Workers Poisoned in Colombia, December 11, 2003, Floriculture: Pesticides, Worker Health & Codes of Conduct, June 12, 2002, Behind the Flowers, the Workers’ Rights, Cactus, Bogotá, Colombia, http://www.cactus.org.co.
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