Americas

3.52

Regular violations of rights

Worse than last year

The situation of workers in the Americas worsened in 2022, with an increase from 3.48 to 3.52, falling between regular violations of rights and systematic violations of rights. In many countries, including Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras, trade unionists and workers experienced violent attacks.

At a glance

92%

92% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 88% in 2021
88%

88% of countries impeded the registration of unions.

No change from 2021
77%

77% of countries workers in the Americas denied workers access to justice.

Compared with 76% in 2021
76%

76% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 72% in 2021
76%

76% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

Compared with 72% in 2021
52%

52% of countries arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 56% in 2021
36%

Workers experienced violent attacks in 36% of countries in the Americas.

Compared with 40% in 2021
24%

24% of countries in the Americas restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 20% in 2021

Workers were murdered in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Haiti.

Workers' rights violations

Right to strikeProsecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

92%

92% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 88% in 2021

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 8 October 2021, the workers at General Motors' Chevrolet in São Caetano do Sul plant in Brazil were on strike after negotiations with the employer on wage adjustments broke down. After the union decided to launch the strike, a conciliation hearing was held at the Regional Labour Court. However, no agreement was reached between the parties. On 21 October, the Regional Labour Court declared the strike illegal. The trade union assembly decided to continue with the action. However, because of possible legal actions against the strikers, the workers had to reincorporate to work with no solution to their demands.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

Clashes erupted between police and workers who came out to demonstrate on 26 October 2021 in at least three parts of Ecuador as part of the national strike against the government. In Imbabura, in the canton of Peguche, security forces threw tear gas to disperse the citizens. The demonstrations were called by the United Workers' Front (FUT), the Popular Front (FP) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie). Among the demands were a freeze on fuel prices and support for the draft labour code recently presented to the legislature by the FUT, and rejection of the proposed Law for the Creation of Opportunities. At least 37 demonstrators were arrested throughout the country.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

At the end of 2020, workers at the Ash Grove cement plant in Joliette, Quebec (Canada), were informed that two of the four kilns would be closed, putting at least half of their jobs at risk. Despite the fact that collective bargaining was still ongoing, members of the workplace union Unifor were illegally locked out of the plant on 22 May 2021. Unifor, along with the Quebec Federation of Labor and their members across Quebec, organised a series of solidarity actions.

In response to the union mobilisation, Ash Grove management obtained a new injunction limiting union actions. The employer also filed a CA$2.6 million (about US$2.1 million) management grievance for lost production and equipment breakdown and dismissed two members of Local 177, including a member of the bargaining committee.

Ash Grove cement is owned by CRH Canada, which employs 4,000 people in 100 production facilities. Worldwide, the global giant employs more than 76,000 people in over 3,000 locations in 29 countries.

Right to strikeDismissals for participating in strike action

92%

92% of countries violated the right to strike.

Compared with 88% in 2021

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In early 2022, Centri Group S.A. in Haiti dismissed some 60 workers for protesting at unfair wage practices in the garment sector. In January 2022, a coalition of unions had called on the prime minister to increase the minimum wage in the garment industry from 500 gourdes a day (US$4.80) to 1,500 gourdes. The protests were brutally repressed by the police, who fired tear gas and beat protestors with batons outside the SONAPI free trade zone in Port-au-Prince.

In recent months, inflation in Haiti has reached 23 per cent. In the garment sector, wages have stayed the same for the past three years, and workers earn less than a third of what they need to in order to survive.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Canada, the governments, federal and provincial, frequently used back-to-work legislation to end strikes. For instance, the federal government passed back-to-work legislation to end a strike by dock workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), at the Port of Montreal on 30 April 2021. The union had been unable to secure a new collective bargaining agreement after nearly three years of negotiations. The union called the strike after the employer, the Maritime Employers’ Association, notified the union it would no longer honour collective agreement provisions related to job security and began unilaterally imposing overtime at the port.

Similarly, in early November 2021, the government of New Brunswick used back-to-work legislation against striking public sector workers. Approximately 22,000 CUPE members across a range of public services were on strike in the province. The government used emergency legislation to force members of three striking health care bargaining units (CUPE 1251, CUPE 1252 and CUPE 1190) back to work. The federal government and the government of New Brunswick’s uses of back-to-work legislation infringe on workers’ right to strike, protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

In Edmonton, Canada, members of Boilermakers Lodge 146 have been locked out by their employer, CESSCO Fabrication and Engineering Ltd., a steal company, since June 2020. Over the past year, the employer has hired replacement workers while receiving the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a pandemic benefit paid by the federal government to employers, ostensibly to cover payroll expenses. The continued use of replacement workers has prolonged the lockout. Before the lockout, the union had been bargaining for a contract for over two and a half years.

Right to justice

77%

77% of countries workers in the Americas denied workers access to justice.

Compared with 76% in 2021

Right to justice

In a travesty of justice, on 11 June 2011 Venezuelan trade unionist Rodney Álvarez was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for homicide. To this day, he is still seeking a fair trial while facing dire circumstances in prison.

In 2011, Álvarez was prosecuted for the alleged murder of worker Renny Rojas during a workers’ assembly on the premises of the state-owned company Ferrominera Orinoco of Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG). The assembly was taking place to choose the commission tasked with holding elections for the executive committee of the Sintraferrominera trade union.

The proceedings brought against Rodney Álvarez reflect the lack of separation of powers in the country and imply a clear denial of justice, with eight interruptions and up to 25 preliminary hearings, and with Álvarez having been the victim of three serious knife and gun attacks perpetrated with total impunity during the more than ten years in which he was held in pretrial custody.

Nothing in the judicial file confirmed that Álvarez was armed, let alone that he fired the shots. The judge also dismissed all the defence witnesses who were present at the scene and who saw that another person perpetrated the killing. The statement by the National Guard officer on security duty at the enterprise at the time, who declared that he had detained the other person for firing shots, was disregarded.

Right to justice

In Honduras, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken, and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were solved, usually many years later.

Right to justice

In Colombia, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken, and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were solved, usually many years later.

Right to justice

In Guatemala, the pervasive climate of repression, physical violence and intimidation against workers and trade unionists was compounded by the government’s failure to pursue the many historic cases of murders and other violent crimes. The labour justice system remained broken, and only a handful of the hundreds of murder cases were solved, usually many years later.

Right to collective bargaining

76%

76% of countries violated the right to collective bargaining.

Compared with 72% in 2021

Right to collective bargaining

In May 2021, Santander Brazil enforced a 55 per cent pay cut on 40 bank union leaders and workers after they made a legal challenge to be paid for overtime hours. Brazil contributes to the biggest slice of profits for Spanish multinational Santander, but instead of paying these workers what they were due, the Brazilian arm of the bank demoted them and hacked their pay by more than half. Facing this arbitrary cut, the bank workers went to court and were able to secure a judgement that restored their pay grade and salaries. However, Santander Brazil has failed to comply with the order despite incurring daily fines due to non-compliance.

Right to collective bargaining

In Uruguay, medical staff unions the Sindicato Médico del Uruguay (SMU), the Federación Médica del Interior (FEMI) and the Sindicato Anestésico Quirúrgico (SAQ) requested a tripartite meeting with employers’ representatives (IAMAC) and the ministry of labour in April 2021 to demand the implementation of the collective agreement that had been concluded only five months before, in December 2020. IAMAC (private sector medical companies in Montevideo and the interior), had reneged on their commitment to pay salary supplements to medical workers. Despite the unions’ efforts, employers persistently refused to comply with their obligations under the collective agreement.

Right to collective bargaining

In 2021, AB InBev Peru implemented personnel restructuring processes without consulting the union organisations. In the restructuring process, the company dismissed three union general secretaries: Luis Samán, José Gayoso, and José Leiva as well as fifteen workers at the northern plant in Motupe, Peru, all of whom are members of the Backus National Union on strike.

Right to collective bargaining

Between April and May 2021, administrative health workers of the Tesai Foundation, a conglomerate of hospitals in the Itaipu region (Paraguay), went on strike for failure by the company to comply with the collective agreement. The workers, supported by their union, the Union of Civil Construction and Service Workers (Siconaps), were demanding the payment of benefits, the right to paid leave and maternity leave, the provision of safety equipment to all personnel, and medical and other guarantees provided for in the Collective Contract of Working Conditions in force. Tesai ignored the demands and continued to violate the agreement.

Right to collective bargaining

Failure to comply with collective agreements remained a common occurrence in Canada. For example, the Ontario Labour Relations Board received 355 unfair labour practice complaints, the principal charges against employers being “illegal discharge of or discrimination against employees for union activity, illegal changes in wages and working conditions and failure to bargain in good faith.”

Right to establish and join a trade unionWorkers excluded from labour protections

76%

76% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

Compared with 72% in 2021

Workers excluded from labour protections

In the Bahamas, prison staff were excluded from the legislation on the right to organise.

Workers excluded from labour protections

In 2021, there were major concerns about the widespread breach of workers’ rights in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in Jamaica, one of the fastest-growing industries in the Caribbean. Of the 40,000 BPO workers in Jamaica – whose roles varied from customer service to technical support, sales and more – nearly all were working on fixed-term and temporary contracts, and not one of the 70-plus companies operating on the island had allowed trade union representation within their firms.

Thousands of young workers were lured into call-centre jobs, enticed by promises of good salaries and skilled work within a high-tech, global industry, only to find themselves facing a completely different reality once the contracts were signed: long hours, short or no breaks during busy periods, and environments where employers hire and fire at will. While not explicit, the language in their contracts implied that organising and collective bargaining were grounds for dismissal.

Meanwhile, BPOs benefited from special privileges, as they operated under special economic zone (free zones) legislation as “public utility services”. This arrangement resulted in a range of tax exemptions and anti-union laws: for example, there can be no strikes unless unions give employers six weeks’ notice.

Workers excluded from labour protections

The Taboga sugar mill in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica's main sugar-cane-producing area, receives hundreds of people every year to work in the harvest, mainly migrants from neighbouring Nicaragua.

The local union SINTRAICA, affiliated to the IUF, has demanded that the company's management, the Ministry of Labour and the relevant authorities respect workers’ rights at Ingenio Taboga, an agro-industry company, and improve the terrible conditions in which the migrant workers work and live, including through compliance with the collective agreement on subcontracting and agency labour. Joining a union remained difficult for migrant workers in the industry.

Right to establish and join a trade unionUnion-busting

76%

76% of countries excluded workers from the right to establish and join a trade union.

Compared with 72% in 2021

Union-busting

In 2021, Coca-Cola Uruguay imposed a restructuring to lay off sixteen workers in Montevideo and eighteen workers in the department of Salto. The company claimed that it would lay off those who had received a disciplinary sanction in the past. In reality, the company targeted only unionised workers in Salto.

The Coca-Cola Workers’ Union (STCC) tried to argue for their reinstatement during a 45-day negotiation, without reaching an agreement with Coca Cola. On 4 August 2021, the STCC unanimously resolved to go on strike for seven days.

Union-busting

During the pandemic, the Luxottica management at the manufacturing and distribution centre in McDonough, USA, used a company-issued app called “LiveSafe”, allegedly to inform workers on COVID-19 issues in the workplace. In reality, the app served as a platform for management to send anti-union messages about purported “risks” of union organising, including that workers might lose pay and benefits if they succeeded in forming a union. In addition to the app, management created an anti-union website vilifying unions and suggesting dire consequences if workers signed a union card. The company also hired anti-union consultants and required workers to attend mandatory, union-bashing “captive-audience” meetings with no opportunity for response by union supporters.

On 15 July 2021, national and international labour groups filed a complaint under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, alleging severe violations of workers’ freedom of association rights at the Luxottica USA.

The Luxottica manufacturing and distribution centre in Georgia employs 2,000 workers. Luxottica is a division of the EssilorLuxottica group, the world’s largest provider of vision care and eyewear products, serving a global market with over 150,000 employees around the world.

Union-busting

During 2021, Heinz-Glas Peru continued with its anti-union policy to disband the union and prevent collective bargaining. The company offered help for the disaffiliation of members, even going to their homes, sending them the letter of disaffiliation, calling them one by one to encourage their disaffiliation and offering a position with a higher income to those who would choose to disaffiliate.

Union-busting

At the end of April 2021, AB InBev La Constancia, in El Salvador, one of the world's largest brewers, unjustly dismissed 32 workers, all members of the IUF-affiliated Constancia Workers' Union (SITRACONSTA). On 30 July 2021, the company fired 30 more unionised workers. The union requested the immediate reinstatement of the unjustly dismissed union members, recognition of the union and the commencement of collective bargaining. The company consistently refused to give way to bargaining, arguing that it did not have time because of its restructuring plans and pandemic coping measures.

Throughout 2021, La Constancia has maintained its anti-union policy of intimidating union members by telling them that layoffs are SITRACONSTA's responsibility and offering job security to workers who prove that they have resigned from the union.

Right to civil liberties

52%

52% of countries arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 56% in 2021

Right to civil liberties

In the early hours of the 27th of May 2021, a simultaneous police operation was carried out in several municipalities in the department of Arauca, Colombia. Several trade union leaders of the Arauca Campesino Association (ACA), a FENSUAGRO affiliate, were arrested without motive: Anderson Rodríguez Rodríguez, ACA president; Jhon Alexander Romero, vice president and human rights secretary of ACA; Camilo Espinel, education secretary of ACA and councillor of the municipality of Saravena; Fredy Camargo, councillor of Fortul and coordinator of the Technical Committee of ACA; Ruth Pita, councillor of Fortul and ACA associate; Helbert Alonso Ramírez Castro, ACA associate and accountant; and Samuel Acosta, ACA associate and member of the Tame Veredal Committee.

Right to civil liberties

On 21 October 2021, Chilean special forces of the Carabineros, using batons, water cannons and pepper spray, brutally repressed the leaders of the sixteen trade union organisations that make up the Mesa del Sector Público (MSP). Union leaders, including José Pérez Debelli, president of the National Association of Public Employees (ANEF), were detained but released a few hours later in response to pressure from the trade union organisations on the government. The MSP representatives were delivering to the government a list of demands on wage adjustment and improvement of working conditions. This formal delivery is an annual practice that initiates the process of branch negotiation of the MSP, which represents about 500,000 public workers.

Violent attacks on workers

36%

Workers experienced violent attacks in 36% of countries in the Americas.

Compared with 40% in 2021

Violent attacks on workers

On 16 June 2021, Edgar Alejandro Talento and Jaime Col Ical, members of the company union at Fritolay Guatemala, were attacked by unknown assailants. Jaime escaped unscathed, but Edgar was severely injured and taken to the hospital.

Violent attacks on workers

In February 2022, as Quironsalud workers, a subsidiary of the German multinational Fresenius in Colombia, organised in a trade union and requested the opening of collective bargaining negotiations, Julian Parra and Claudia López, two of their elected leaders, received death threats. Claudia reported the details of these threats to local police, while Julian was forced to flee the country. International calls for Fresenius to publicly denounce these threats remained unheeded.

Violent attacks on workers

Members of the Asociación Nacional de Enfermeras y Enfermeros Auxiliares de Honduras (ANEEAH) took to the streets to protest the murder the day before of their colleague, nursing student Keyla Martínez, which had occurred while she was in the custody of the National Police. In response to the protests, police officers violently beat up the workers, including union member Agustín Sánchez, who was left with serious injuries to his left shoulder.

Violent attacks on workers

In Honduras, during the month of October 2021, union leader Darlin Oviedo, president of the garment workers' union Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Compañía Jasper (SITRAJASPER), and the union's general secretary, Selvin Peña, were constantly followed by unidentified men. Oviedo was even chased by a heavily armed motorbike driver who threatened to shoot him, but fortunately the union leader was able to weave his way through traffic and escape. The threats began when workers demonstrated to demand that the garment factory reinstate workers seeking work after COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

Violent attacks on workers

On 10 February 2022, for the second day in a row, police fired tear gas and beat protestors with batons outside the SONAPI Free Trade Zone in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Striking workers were calling on Prime Minster Ariel Henry to increase the minimum wage in the garment industry from 500 gourdes a day (US$4.80) to 1,500 gourdes.

Violent attacks on workers

On 30 August 2021, members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores General Portuario, SINTRAGENPORT, of the Empresa Portuaria Nacional Santo Tomás de Castilla received death threats by unidentified individuals who called them. Members threatened were all members of the Board of Directors: Victor Oliva, general secretary; Marcos Eliú Castellanos Nufio, deputy general secretary; Edwin Martínez, secretary of finance; Rafael Aquino, secretary of inter-union relations; Arturo Arzú, secretary of social prevention; José Eduardo Saldaña, secretary of sports; and Melvin Larios, secretary of the consultative council. The union had denounced anomalies and acts of corruption in procurements.

Violent attacks on workers

On 31 March 2022, Carlos Mancilla and his family members received anonymous phone calls warning that they were being watched and mentioning each person in the family by name. The callers sent a photo of Mancilla’s house and said that they had followed his daughter but held back from killing her.

Mancilla is general secretary of the trade union centre CUS-G, president of Guatemala’s Tripartite Commission on Labor Relations and Freedom of Association, and a titular member of the ITUC General Council. These events took place in the context of increasing insecurity and attacks on the union movement in Guatemala and in addition to an explosion of unresolved labour disputes and a campaign to discredit and stigmatise workers’ representatives.

Violent attacks on workers

On 12 August 2021, union leaders of the National Union of Food Workers in Colombia, SINTRAIMAGRA and SINALTRAINAL, were threatened in Bugalagrande, Valle. On entering the headquarters of the Bugalagrande branch of SINTRAIMAGRA, the secretary found an envelope with a leaflet headed Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia and below with the logo of Las Águilas Negras, Bloque Occidental de Colombia, and a USB in which the following trade unionists were designated as “military targets”: Edwin Mejía, Francisco Vásquez, Fernando Castaño, Carlos Soto, Juan Camilo Jaramillo, Andrés Rubio, Onofre Esquivel, Wilson Riaño, Luis Herbert Peñaloza, Frank Acevedo, Gustavo Bedoya and Martin Agudelo.

Violent attacks on workers

On 29 April 2021, during demonstrations in the municipality of Copacabana, Antioquia (Colombia), a teacher and activist of the Antioquia Teachers' Association (Adida) was recording a police procedure with his mobile phone camera. At that moment, he was assaulted by members of the national police, who took his mobile phone and beat him. Subsequently, when he went to the police headquarters to claim his mobile phone, he was arbitrarily detained.

Violent attacks on workers

In Colombia, on 25 November 2021, on the eve of the elections for the designation of the leadership of the union Guincheros, Maquinistas y Grúas Móviles, the head of the union, Roberto Coria, who was seeking re-election, was the victim of an attempt on his life at the door of his home, where he was shot and sustained injuries. Days earlier there had been a similar attempt on his life, which was foiled because the assailant's weapon misfired. The attempts on Coria’s life were linked to the union elections, and it is believed that the attacks were perpetrated by a yellow union supported by the employers.

Right to free speech and assembly

24%

24% of countries in the Americas restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 20% in 2021

Right to free speech and assembly

Throughout 2021, health sector workers held multiple protests against the enactment of the Health Emergency Law passed on 4 February 2021, which prohibits strikes and protests by health sector workers. This law was passed without having been agreed by the workers. Trade union organisations have demanded guarantees that they can carry out their work in decent working conditions and that freedom of association will be allowed; however, their demands have not been heeded.

Murders

Workers were murdered in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Haiti.

Murders

On 14 May 2021, Felipe Andrés Pérez Pérez, union leader of SINALTRAINAL Seccional Envigado, was murdered in Medellín as he was coming back from a protest held in the framework of the national strike.

Murders

On the morning of 26 November 2021, Clemito Rengifo Salazar, a grassroots worker of the Sindicato de Maestros de Nariño (SIMANA), was carrying out his duties as an educator at the San Francisco de Asís Madrigal Educational Institution, in Policarpa (department of Nariño), when unidentified men abducted him from the school, in the presence of his students. His lifeless body was found later in the afternoon hours.

Murders

A journalist was killed and five workers were injured in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 23 February 2022 when police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators opposing the amount of the meagre wage increase announced by the government following weeks of protest. The cost of living has been steadily increasing in Haiti and violence has pervaded the country as gangs often wielded more power than the government.

Murders

On 7 May 2021, Cinthia del Carmen Pineda Estrada, 35 years old, was fatally shot in front of her house in the Chaparro Zacapa neighbourhood (Guatemala). Estrada was a primary school teacher and leader of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación de Guatemala (STEG). The Public Prosecutor's Office has not provided any information on the perpetrators or the causes of this crime.

Murders

In Ecuador, Sandro Arteaga Quiroz, secretary of the Union of Workers of the Provincial Government of Manabí, was killed on 24 January 2022 on a highway as he was exiting his truck. Quiroz, who at the time of the attack was with one of his sons, was shot at least twice in the head by unidentified gunmen, who then fled the scene. The leader had received death threats via telephone a day before and until hours before the murder. The National Police carried out ground and air operations in search of the assassins. No arrests have been made so far.

Murders

This year, thirteen trade unionists were victims of targeted assassinations in Colombia.

On 11 August 2021, Carlos Fredy Londoño Bautista, a member of the Asociación de Educadores del Meta Adem-Fecode affiliate, was murdered as he was about to start his working day in Fuente de Oro, Meta. On the morning of 11 August, Carlos Freddy went to the school where he worked, and on the way he was approached by assassins on a motorcycle. They shot him four times in front of some of his students.

In Honduras, working people experienced violent attacks as the situation for workers worsened across the Americas.Orlando Sierra / AFP

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