There are doubts about the institutions responsible for the rule of law in Honduras and the government’s protection of human rights, acknowledged the U.S. State Department in an Aug. 8 report. Unfortunately, the State Department says virtually nothing about the widespread impunity regarding violations of freedom of association or the threats and violence aimed at labor activists.
Under federal appropriations law, Congress requires the State Department to “report in writing that the Government of Honduras is implementing policies to protect freedom of association and due process of law.” The report fails to pay sufficient attention to serious labor rights violations.
The report comments that “employers occasionally violate the law with impunity” and points out that the government “can reach administrative decisions and fine companies for unfair dismissal.” However, the report doesn't mention the near total failure of Honduras to enforce its labor laws or use these capacities. Instead, the report implies that the government's efforts to protect labor rights function reasonably. As documented in the April 2012 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) complaint, filed by many Honduran labor organizations and the AFL-CIO, the government frequently fails to inspect workplaces, rarely seeks to prosecute those who fire workers for organizing unions and apparently lacks the will or capacity to fine employers for day-to-day violations of even the most basic wage and benefit laws. The U.S. Department of Labor recently visited Honduras to investigate the CAFTA complaint. Their findings should verify that the efforts of the Honduran government to defend and strengthen freedom of association and due process of law regarding other labor rights fall far short of what is acceptable.
Below, we cite only three emblematic examples of Honduras’ failure to guarantee that its citizens can safely and securely exercise their fundamental rights. These are but a few of the documented violations we have gathered with the Honduran labor movement.
Petralex, an apparel factory, began a policy of firings of union officers and supporters in 2007. Several times, the workers elected a new leadership committee, and several times, Petralex fired these new leaders, in violation of Honduran law. The Ministry of Labor had not taken action to discipline the employer or to reimburse the workers for their losses.
A.tion, another apparel factory, refused to allow Ministry of Labor inspectors to enter to 1) investigate an unlawful increase in production quotas without a corresponding increase in wages, or to 2) serve official notice of the union’s formation. A.tion denied the inspector entry three additional times and fired all of the founding members of the union. The Ministry has not sanctioned the employer or remediated the situation for the illegally fired workers.
In March 2011, the government initiated a wave of violence in response to protests led by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras (COPEMH) against corruption, wage issues and an education reform initiative viewed as laying the foundation for the privatization of public education in the country. The police used excessive force against the protesters, including beating people with batons and firing tear gas canisters into crowds.
As the State Department continues to evaluate and certify Honduras’ performance concerning the human rights conditions placed on its receipt of international aid, and the Department of Labor reports back on the problems raised by Honduran labor and the AFL-CIO, it must fully and fairly evaluate the government of Honduras’ efforts to protect and promote freedom of association and other fundamental labor rights, as well as allegations that a culture of violence is being used to suppress exercise of those very rights.
Read The Nation's article for background on the current situation in Honduras.
For more information on the Honduran government’s weak efforts to inspect workplaces, click here.