Brighter future for Ecuadorian banana workers, thanks to ILO recommendation

The Agricultural Workers and Peasants Trade Union Association ASTAC, one of Oxfam’s partner in Ecuador, was created in 2014 by a constitutive assembly of banana workers. The banana sector is a driver of Ecuadorian economy, representing 22 percent of the country’s total world export, even though several flaws have been reported in the industry.

During the next 4 years, ASTAC unsuccessfully tried to register as a trade union but the Ministry of Labour repeatedly rejected the application, claiming that ASTAC workers do not have a single employer. Moreover, they have been harassed and they have faced legal accusations, especially after they denounced illegal aerial fumigations on plantations belonging to the Manobal group in November 2016.

The labour law in Ecuador prescribes that a trade union must have a minimum of 30 workers although the banana sector in Ecuador is mostly composed of a large number of small (0 – 30 hectares) and medium-size (30 – 100 hectares) plantations and 79 percent of them employ less than 30 workers. As indicated in the 2017 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Ecuadorian law requires an excessive number of workers for the establishment of workers’ associations, enterprise committees or assemblies.

In order to raise this issue, ASTAC filed a complaint to the ILO in 2015 and, on Thursday 8 June 2017, the ILO Conference’ Committee on the Application of the Standards (CAS) discussed the lack of compliance, by the Government of Ecuador, of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. Silvana Cappuccio from the Italian Trade Union Confederation (CGIL) intervened during the discussion and urged the Ecuadorian government to take the necessary measures to amend its Labour Code in order to reduce the minimum number of members required to establish workers’ associations and enterprise committees and to set up an independent inquiry into the many anti-union actions which have taken place in Ecuador around the establishment of company trade unions and to undertake remedial action without delay, including those in relation to applications to register trade unions. ASTAC was supported by many other associations during this discussion (the Austrian Trade Union Federation (OGB) the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Luxembourg (OGBL), the Belgian Trade Unions FGTB and CSC and FESTAGRO).

Following the hearing, the ILO clearly gave a recommendation to Ecuador to register ASTAC and to change their laws and make sectorial unions possible. This result is encouraging for the improvement of banana workers’ rights in Ecuador and shows that cooperation between unions is crucial to achieve such victory.