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Peru: Union leader sacked for speaking out
If the company you worked for let workers toil for 12-14 hours a day in miserable conditions, wouldn’t you speak out about it? For Fidel Polo Sanchez, a local union leader at Agricola Viru, one of Peru’s largest agricultural export plantations, that’s exactly what he did. Now, Agricola Viru is trying to stop Polo and his co-workers from spreading the truth about their company and the agro-export sector, and on July 12th, they notified Polo that he would be fired for “defamation.” Sociedad Agricola Viru, S.A. is one of the most profitable companies in Peru’s booming agriculture-for-export sector, one that provides the US, Europe, and Asia with much of its asparagus, peppers, and artichokes. Their soaring profits are made possible by anti-worker law that allows agro-export employers to pay their workers sub-minimum wage and half the benefits that other private sector workers in the country are entitled to. Recently, agro-export workers in Peru have been leading the charge to amend this law to allow them to earn the same wages and benefits as the rest of the country’s private sector workers, and Polo has been one of the loudest voices in this campaign. On May 15th, he appeared on a local television program to talk about this campaign, and how Agricola Viru has continued to provide sub-standard working conditions in spite of the immense sacrifices made by their workers. Agricola Viru responded by alleging that Polo had stated falsehoods about their company, quoting his comments such as “[workers] have to buy their own safety equipment,” and that “[we work in] in inadequate conditions.” Although Agricola Viru may view these statements as unfounded accusations, the Peruvian Ministry of Labour certainly does not: Agricola Viru has been fined repeatedly over the last three years for failing to provide its workers with proper safety equipment, for denying labor inspections, and for egregious working conditions. Fidel Polo was brave enough to speak out about injustice in his workplace. Huge agribusiness can’t get away with silencing the voice of the workers who dare to expose the real price that is paid to put food on our tables. Write to Agricola Viru’s executives and tell them that you won’t stand for violations of workers freedom of expression and the right to advocate for decent working conditions.
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