Ecuador: a multimillionaire violates labour rights

Friday 9 December 2011 was a dismal day for Lester Gustavo Freire Burgos and for union rights in Ecuador. On this day, Mr. Freire Burgos, an employee and the Secretary General of the FENACLE union at the Los Alamos banana plantation, was fired and removed from his workplace by security agents. With no official justification, he was forced to leave his job after thirteen years of service on the plantation owned by the multinational fruit company, Noboa. Confronted with this new – but far from isolated – act of repression, FENACLE is calling for international solidarity to demand that Noboa management reinstate the worker and cease their anti-union practices.

Bananas are one of the most traded products in the world. The majority are grown on large plantations owned by or supplying multinationals such as Noboa. In Ecuador, the biggest global exporter of bananas, thousands of people and their families depend on the banana industry. According to the ILO (International Labour Organisation), Ecuador is one of five countries where violations of trade union rights are most severe. “In Ecuador the word union is demonized and social dialogue is far from being a priority for business leaders” says Angel Rivero, President of FENACLE.

Blacklists are created and shared between employers with the names of those who have participated, directly or indirectly, in any union activity. Once on file, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for union members to be hired by another company.

Los Alamos is owned by the Noboa multinational that sells bananas under the “Bonita” brand. The fourth biggest banana company, Noboa is headed by Álvaro Noboa – multimillionaire entrepreneur and politician, the richest man in Ecuador (1).

When union involvement rhymes with dismissal…

In May 2011, 700 workers of the Los Alamos plantation legally met and elected their union representatives … all elected officials were immediately fired! (Read our news coverage of the establishment of the union and company reaction).

Shortly thereafter, the employees obtained authorisation to run a union, but the newly elected officials were called one by one to the company headquarters in Guayaquil, where they faced threats of dismissal and other forms of intimidation. On May 17, a formal trade union was established on the plantation and 60% of the 1,200 employees became members with the hope of negotiating a collective agreement. Lester Gustavo Freire Burgos was one of the new union members, and on October 30 2011, he was elected Secretary General. He has worked in the Los Alamos plantation since December 17 1998 as a welder. Los Alamos is also his home – he lives there with his entire family.

On December 7 2011, while getting ready to begin his workday, he was summoned by the Human Resources Director who explained that he had received orders to dismiss him. He was then unceremoniously expelled from his workplace by security guards.

In the process, he was given just seven hours to vacate his house – a truck was even waiting at his door to load his belongings and leave as soon as possible!

No reason for the layoff was given to him: “I have always worked to my employer’s satisfaction and do not understand the reason of my untimely dismissal if not for having been elected Secretary General of the union” he commented.

Lester’s is not an isolated case: on December 16 2011, management also threatened Jorge Muñoz Nieto – Secretary of Finance – and all the others involved in the establishment of the union. It is only through pressure from FENACLE and the support of international partners that there have been no further layoffs.

Noboa – persistent violations of union rights

This is not the first gross violation of union rights at Los Alamos. In 2002, armed men entered the plantation to break up a legal strike by a newly formed union….watch an eyewitness account of the violent repression of union members that day.

Without international pressure, Noboa will continue to repress workers’ rights. FENACLE is calling for international solidarity to demand that the company immediately reinstate Lester Freire and cease all anti-union practices.

(1) Álvaro Noboa ran three times for the presidency, first on behalf of the right-wing populist party, and then with his own party. His is renowned for leading his electoral battles by spending excessively and beyond legally agreed levels.

Message to Alvaro Noboa, Director of Noboa

Dear Mr Noboa,

I have been informed by FENACLE and Banana Link of the unjustified dismissal of Lester Gustavo Freire Burgos after thirteen years of service on the Los Alamos plantation. I am outraged by the discrimination of union members who simply want to assert their rights for better working conditions.

I ask that you:

  • immediately reinstate Lester Gustavo Freire Burgos as an employee at the Los Alamos plantation
  • cease all anti-union practices including the unfair dismissal of union members.

Best regards,

Solidarity message to FENACLE

Dear friends at FENACLE,

I have been informed by Banana Link (UK) about the unjustified dismissal of Lester Gustavo Freire Burgos and of the anti-union actions that persist on the Noboa owned Los Alamos plantation. I support your actions and have sent a letter to Mr. Noboa urging him to respond immediately to your requests.

In solidarity,