Seatech International is a Colombian tuna processor committed “to give society a healthy environment together with sustainable development.” At the company’s giant Cartagena plant, 1,500 workers produce Van Camp’s branded products for export throughout Latin America. Yet only 13 of these workers are employed on permanent contracts. The rest are outsourced, disposable, casual workers
Many workers at the plant have been employed for decades on these “temporary” contracts. According to company human resources director Jaime Davila Pestana, it is “not possible” to have direct employees.
On August 7, over one hundred Seatech workers formed a union, the Trade Union of Food Industry Workers (USTRIAL). Notified of the union’s formation two days later, management immediately began dismissing members, including most of the union officers. The layoffs continued until August 12, when the plant was closed until August 23 “for maintenance”. The number of dismissed then climbed to 87. According to Luis Pedraza, who heads the IUF-affiliated UNAC, USTRIAL President Fredis Marrugo – one of the 13 permanent employees – is a prisoner at work, constantly surrounded by security officials who prevent him from talking to fellow workers. Police have cordoned off the plant and denied the dismissed workers all access, even to the road.
Sustainable development is a beautiful thing…
Seatech vaunts the quality control systems through which it fulfils “its ethical and social responsibilities” while physically decimating its employees.
Seatech union activists have formed an association to deal with the epidemic of repetitive strain injuries which afflict large numbers of workers. The Fundación Manos Muertas (Dead Hands Foundation) assists the victims of carpal tunnel syndrome and related RSI injuries resulting from the punishing hours and pace of work. RSI injuries are not recognized as occupational diseases, leaving Seatech free to dismiss disabled workers without compensation.
According to USTRIAL officer Edna Guzman – employed for 18 years as an outsourced worker at Seatech: “We want want to show the world who Seatech is and how it makes its famous Van Camp’s tuna at the expense of workers’ health. Everyone must know about the barbarous conditions here”
The Seatech workers, supported by the IUF and the national center CUT, continue their mobilization for reinstatement of the dismissed workers, recognition of the union and negotiations for a collective agreement, despite the complicity of local police and government officials.