15 December, 2016Twelve workers face a possible jail sentence for taking part in protest action against the dismissal of their union reps in Nicaragua. IndustriALL Global Union has launched a campaign to defend them.
The protest took place in June this year outside the Korean-owned SAE-A Tecnotex garment factory, in an export processing zone - Zona Franca Senika - in Tipitapa, near the capital Managua.
Union leaders at the factory raised concerns about animal hairs found in the drinking water, and about unrealistic production targets. They were fired for speaking out.
Three thousand workers downed tools to support their union leaders, and protested outside the factory. They were joined by family members, workers from other factories, and passersby. Riot police arrived to suppress the protest, and arrested 13 people, including a minor and two taxi drivers who had nothing to do with the protest.
The minor was released, but twelve people were charged by the state prosecutor with obstructing the police. They include three trade unionists, six workers from neighbouring factories, the two taxi drivers, and the mother of one of the trade unionists.
They were found guilty two weeks ago, and are currently awaiting sentencing. This is expected to happen before the Christmas holidays. They could receive up to three years in prison.
IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:
“IndustriALL has written to the president of Nicaragua, the prosecutor and to the company, asking that the charges be dropped and the workers unconditionally released.
“These letters have been ignored.
“IndustriALL has now launched a campaign, with LabourStart, calling for the charges to be dropped.”
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A number of IndustriALL affiliates are also writing to Nicaraguan embassies urging them to pass on their concerns. The present government was elected on the strength of the Sandinista legacy, which is associated with the defense of democratic freedoms. It has a responsibility to defend the rights of workers.
Nicaragua recently signed a trade deal with Korea, a country notorious for repressing union rights. On Monday, the leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to three years in prison. There are concerns that the Tipitapa twelve are being used to send a signal to Korea that labour protests will not be tolerated in export processing zones.
SAE-A Tecnotex is a multinational apparel producer, with 41 factories in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Haiti, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. The factory in Nicaragua employs 3,000 people, and makes clothes for the US market. The biggest client is JC Penney, but the company also produces for other brands, including Kohl’s, Target and Walmart.
IndustriALL has written to the companies asking them to put pressure on their supplier.
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