Several striking palm oil workers in Honduras were physically assaulted by private security guards and threatened with prison this week as they peacefully walked a picket line at company offices in El Progreso, according to the agro-industrial workers’ union federation FESTAGRO. The workers have been on strike since October, seeking to form a union in the face of stiff employer opposition.
Denouncing the attack, STAS, an agro-industrial union affiliated with FESTAGRO, says the company “is using violence to continue to violate the rights of workers” rather than initiate a serious dialogue.
The strike began October 20 when 160 palm oil workers walked off the job to protest the firing of 18 STAS-affiliated workers fired after workers indicated their intention to form a union. In early October, 80 palm oil workers had formed the country’s first-ever palm oil union, a move that sparked efforts by workers at other palm oil plantations to form unions.
The company went on to fire another 80 STAS-affiliated workers on November 2. Some 300 workers are now on strike and families are struggling to survive after nearly 70 days on the picket line.
According to FESTAGRO and the Honduran Network of Trade Unionists against Anti-Union Violence, after staff at a regional Ministry of Labor office conducted an inspection at the plantation in late November, a young FESTAGRO organizer was followed by a company vehicle when he later met with the Labor Ministry in the town of El Progreso.
Over the years, agro-industrial workers in the melon and banana sectors seeking to form unions with FESTAGRO, a longtime partner of the Solidarity Center, have been threatened, stalked and physically assaulted. The Anti-Union Violence Network, in which FESTAGRO is a key leader, also has documented murders of farm worker union activists, including those whose unions are members of the network.
The attack on the palm oil workers comes in the wake of violent repression against Hondurans protesting the country’s flawed elections. Honduran labor unions and human rights groups are demanding respect for human rights and transparency in the resolution of the country’s election crisis.