Imagine if, for more than a dozen years, you got a piece of paper with each paycheck saying you still had a job next week and should come back to work next Monday. Now imagine your best friend at the same garment factory, after 14 years of service, getting a piece of paper that said she should not come back on Monday. Why? Because she supported the union and therefore no longer has a job.
After your friend was fired, do you think you would feel comfortable speaking out about that cloth cutter that keeps shocking you or the pile of flammable materials next to the elevator? How about signing that "union yes" card for yourself?
That’s the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of workers at companies that export goods to the United States under benefits provided by the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA). As a result, on July 23, Peruvian unions and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding Peru’s failure to adhere to the labor standards contained in the PTPA.
Along with other industries like Peru’s agro-export sector, its garment factories have routinely and for decades taken advantage of Peru’s Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law that allows them to hire most workers through contracts as short as 15 days and renew the contract every two weeks for as long as 15 years. The law allows employers to discriminate against trade unionists by firing them under the pretext of not renewing their contract because of “economic circumstances.” Employers in the well-established garment export sector are reluctant to give up this way of reducing costs by denying workers’ rights.
Workers are not alone in criticizing the law. Even international garment brands have called for its repeal. The International Labor Organization (ILO) also has noted the potential negative impact of the law on workers’ rights.
The AFL-CIO has sent the Labor Department a letter supporting the complaint by Peruvian unions and the ILRF. In the years since the PTPA entered into force, the AFL-CIO has received information from workers and unions that corroborates the assertions in the complaint. Aside from sustained and recurring inaction and failure to enforce its labor laws in multiple sectors that produce for export to the U.S. market, the cases identified in the PTPA petition by Peruvian unions and the ILRF demonstrate that workers who exercise their right to organize or bargain collectively are systematically targeted for reprisal by their employers.
As the petition also demonstrates, employers in the key export sector of non-traditional agriculture production have thrived since the entry into force of the PTPA at the expense of workers’ rights. Producers of Peru’s asparagus, avocados, peppers and other products employ more than 300,000 workers and lead the non-mining exports to the United States. These employers repeatedly violate labor laws ranging from health and safety laws to retaliation for forming or joining a union, to widespread illegal use of seasonal or temporary contracts.
A year ago, the AFL-CIO noted its concern that Peru had taken steps to attract investment and trade by reducing workers' rights protection in labor law and called on the government to restore them. Today's filing by Peruvian unions reinforces those concerns, and they are amplified by the fact that Peru also is participating in negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The AFL-CIO considers this to be an important opportunity for the United States to bring the government of Peru into compliance with its existing obligations under the PTPA before further cementing ties under the TPP. Because Peru is in violation of the PTPA now, Peru will be in clear violation from the moment the TPP enters into force unless improvements are made. Little leverage will remain to bring countries like Peru into compliance. Post-hoc compliance efforts, as exemplified by Guatemala or Colombia, have failed. TPP countries and other trading partners will once again receive a clear message that they can access trade benefits without complying with labor rights.
Along with the petitioners, the AFL-CIO calls on the government of Peru to come into compliance with its obligations under the PTPA.
Take action: Sign the petition to ensure trade deals like the TPP put people over profits.