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Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas, Campesinos y Bananeros del Ecuador - ASTAC hasn't added a story.
ASTAC is a trade union association of banana and agricultural workers in Ecuador that was founded in 2007. Its initial concern focused on the health of the workers, their families and the people living in the villages and schools surrounding the plantations. In Ecuador, banana plantations are fumigated while workers are working and sometimes during their lunch break. Spraying limits are not respected at certain distances from inhabited areas. Sanitary and occupational health standards are also not respected. As if this were not enough, agrochemicals such as glyphosate, Paraquat and Mancozeb are used in banana production and are spread by air. The use of these last two substances is prohibited by the European Union. The high incidence of respiratory and skin diseases, as well as tumors, some forms of cancer and births with malformations among banana plantation workers and their families, are therefore not difficult to explain.
ASTAC quickly shifted its strategy from workers' health to labor justice. It realized that the fumigation problem was just one symptom of the power relations that organize labor - and generate human suffering - in Ecuador's banana plantations. The leaves of these banana plants hide hundreds of miles of cases of wages below the minimum wage, unpaid overtime, informal labor contracts, withholding of social security registration, occupational hazards and accidents not covered by the plantations, arbitrary firings, secret blacklists of unionized workers, speculative and predatory loans to workers, diseases, contamination of rivers, kidnapping of water sources, harassment, labor and sexual abuse against workers. Harassment, discipline and surveillance of workers who organize are practices that have effectively sustained a real regime of labor exploitation and union persecution within the plantations. To address these hundreds of thousands of experiences of injustice, ASTAC has been promoting unionism to strengthen the capacity of banana workers to generate decent working conditions in the Ecuadorian banana sector for the past fifteen years.
ASTAC's work has not been easy. In Ecuador, banana elites have captured the state by positioning their representatives in the National Assembly, in municipal and provincial governments, and even over the oversight of the Ministries of Labor and Agriculture. Through these positions of power, they have instrumentalized the operations of the State in favor of their interests. In addition, anti-union politicians have managed to keep Ecuador among one of the countries with the lowest unionization rates in the region (between 4 and 2%). We can now get an idea of the serious limits that workers face even in accessing institutionalized mechanisms at the national level for the defense of their rights.
Despite this, ASTAC has renewed the strategy and action repertoires of Ecuadorian trade unionism. It develops an education program on labor rights, environmental rights and women's rights, and provides free legal assistance to its members on labor issues.
At the national level, ASTAC has begun to push for the implementation of branch-based unions in a country that historically relied on company-based and works council-based union organizations. Although branch-based Industrial Unions are not recognized in Ecuador, a High Court ruled on May 26, 2021 that the government must recognize ASTAC as an Industrial Union in compliance with International Labor Organization conventions to which Ecuador is a signatory. Second, its union campaign has articulated not only the agricultural proletariat of the Ecuadorian coast but also rural workers (associations of small banana and other fruit producers), who often fail to build interests akin to those of the working class. Third, ASTAC is incorporating gender justice demands.
ASTAC has called on other organizations and trade union centers in the country to intervene in national and international strategic spaces for the defense of labor rights in Ecuador. Some instances that stand out are ASTAC's leadership in the regular monitoring process of the ILO (2020), the conformation of the Ecuadorian Consultative Council in the Framework of the Trade Agreement with the European Union (2018), and the presentation of a Complaint by banana workers for violation of rights to the Ecuadorian authorities.
To support ASTAC is to recognize that free trade agreements should be political alliances that guarantee that the export and import of goods and services does not imply the export and import of human suffering.
To support ASTAC is to recognize that, as the main destination for Ecuadorian bananas, European markets must ensure that they do not acquire a fruit made from the impoverishment, persecution and exploitation of miles of workers on Ecuador's banana plantations.
ASTAC's work as a union includes seeking ways to reduce the severe exploitation to which workers are subjected on the banana plantations. To this end, it has designed a social aid program to be developed in the headquarters it is building in the rural area of the banana-growing province of Los Rios-Parroquia Isla de Bejucal, where it plans to establish a community store where its members and the community can obtain basic foodstuffs at sustainable prices, The low number of workers who are affiliated to the social security system limits their access to health care, so ASTAC plans to build three clinics at its headquarters, in General Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Dentistry, which will provide medical care to workers from the same rural area where they live.
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For more information on ASTAC and the situation of Ecuadorian banana workers:
- ASTAC and IEE (2019) Banana workers' complaint for violation of rights under the Multiparty Trade Agreement of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the European Union . Available at: https://bit.ly/2Ih8F1k
- Ombudsman's Office (2019) Verification report on human rights violations in the banana production provinces of Ecuador . Available at: https://bit.ly/3gaeLgr
- Trade Union Association of Agricultural and Peasant Banana Workers of Ecuador. ASTAC Ecuador : news
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