El Salvador

Company sets up Frankenstein union


The Compañía Española de Financiación al Desarrollo (COFIDES), which is financing Calvo in El Salvador, refuses to disclose the outcome of a self-imposed social audit. Meanwhile, Calvo intensifies its anti-labor tactics with the aim of destroying the workers’ union, and sets up a Frankenstein union created “in its own image” and headed by personnel in positions of trust.


On March 26, union leaders from the Calvo Conservas Division of the General Union of Fishing and Related Industry Workers (SGTIPAC) submitted two petitions to the Ministry of Labor: one denouncing the escalating and increasingly sophisticated antiunion campaign waged by the company, and the other challenging the negotiation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the company and a management-controlled union. That same day, both petitions were also filed with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, under the international body’s pending Case No. 2571 concerning the situation at Calvo.


Let’s review some of the facts. In June 2007, the Compañía Española de Financiación al Desarrollo (COFIDES) was asked to intervene in the Calvo case, based on the fact that it had granted a 52-million-euro loan to the Spanish canning company, who had in turn guaranteed that it would respect human and labor rights, in accordance with the code of ethics that must be observed by all COFIDES fund recipients.


According to the Salvadorian and international labor organizations that signed the petition (attached to a copy of the complaint filed with the ILO), Calvo is violating the Code of Ethics and consequently, if it does not amend its practices, it must return the funds to COFIDES.


In January 2008, COFIDES sent a social audit to El Salvador, commissioned to COVERCO, a Guatemala-based organization that specializes in code of conduct related issues.


During the course of the investigation, COVERCO officers gathered a significant amount of documentary evidence and testimonies from Calvo workers in support of the claims made by the petitioning labor organizations. However, two months after the “Social Audit,” COFIDES is now refusing to disclose the full report of COVERCO’s investigation. And although COFIDES maintains that it is issuing recommendations to Calvo aimed at solving its labor problems, in reality, exactly the opposite is happening.


Not only has Calvo not tempered its antiunion behavior, it has adopted more sophisticated practices. Now it has created a management-controlled union, with which it plans to surprise public opinion by announcing that it has successfully negotiated a Collective Bargaining Agreement. At the same time, it is doing everything possible to force workers to join this pro-management organization, and it is penalizing members of the workers’ union, the Calvo Conservas Division of the SGTIPAC.


An example of the incidents reported

The labor organizations would hate to think that COFIDES is gaining time to allow Calvo to fully neutralize the workers’ union.


At 2 a.m. on March 13, 2008, the general secretary of the Calvo Conservas Division was performing his tasks as fish supplier when he became aware that the “Cooking” Department had let 64 trays of hot fish get through to the production line in two unmarked shelves. He immediately detected the anomaly, as is required under his tasks, and, as at that moment his superiors were away celebrating a birthday, he alerted the suppliers, so that they would stop this fish from reaching the cleaning stage.


When the production supervisor, Cristela Vides, returned, she blamed the general secretary, Mariano, even though he had detected the anomaly -which had originated in the “Cooking” department- before it was too late. Vides, along with the Plant supervisor, Erasmo Suárez, then issued an admonishment letter against Mariano, blaming him for what had happened and citing José Leonidas Valladares as a witness. Later, Erasmo Suárez ordered that the workers be told that because of Mariano’s carelessness hot fish had been processed.


It should be noted that José Leonidas Valladares, Cristela Vides and Erasmo Suárez are representatives of the labor organization controlled by management, in spite of the fact that the law expressly prohibits supervisors from representing labor.



This is a clear act of reprisal against the general secretary of the workers’ union, the SGTIPAC, perpetrated by representatives of Calvo Conservas management, who illegally hold positions in a union under corporate control.


Moreover, these supervisors have taken advantage of their position of power in the company to intimidate workers, in particular those in the day shift, forcing them to sign documents stating that they voluntarily support the new union or have joined it of their own free will, when actually their signatures are obtained under duress. In fact, the workers who have signed such documents are not given the chance to read them in full, and much less are they given a copy of what they sign. When out of earshot of management and its lackeys, the majority of these workers declare that they signed the documents out of fear of reprisal from their superiors.


On March 5, the Head of Human Resources at Calvo Conservas, Eduardo Meléndez, used the loudspeakers to address workers at the factory cafeteria, accusing the SGTIPAC of being a destabilizing organization, bent on undermining business with the sole purpose of bankrupting companies. Flanked by plant supervisors as he delivered his speech, he also informed workers that the only union that has the company’s approval is the one headed by these supervisors.


And what is COFIDES doing?


While all these reports and allegations have already been filed with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, under Case No. 2571, COFIDES appears to be trying to gain time for Calvo


But the question is, time for what? The petitioning labor organizations would hate to think that COFIDES is gaining time to allow Calvo to fully neutralize the workers’ union, so that it can then, like a puppeteer, present a union under its control, lying to the international community and pretending that everything is ok at Calvo.


They’d hate to think that. But right now that’s exactly what it looks like.




From San Salvador, CEAL *

March 31, 2008

* Labor Studies and Support Center


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