The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) took steps to protect the life of a Honduran union leader who has been threatened with death for fighting for collective bargaining rights for dock workers in Puerto Cortes, Honduras’ main seaport.
Victor Crespo, secretary-general of SGTM, the Honduran union of dock workers, was awakened at dawn on September 14 by armed men trying to knock down his door. Crespo, who before the attack had received written death threats, thought that the intruders were trying to kill.
The noise at the Crespo house woke his neighbors, who ran outside to learn what was happening. When the attackers saw that they were being watched, they scurried away. As they left, the intruders warned Crespo that unless he disappeared, they would be back in eight hours to finish the job.
After the attack, an ITF representative found Crespo a safe place to stay and launched an international campaign to ensure that Crespo’s safety is protected and that SGTM’s organizing effort, which is supposed to be protected by Honduran law, is able to continue.
“Death threats to a trade unionist on account of their promotion and defenses of workers’ rights will not be tolerated by either our organization or the millions of workers we represent,” said Sharon James, ITF dock workers section secretary in a letter to the company that operates the port. “We have been in touch with the Honduran government over this matter and, as with any case of this gravity, we would be forced to take all possible global action should there be any suggestion of employer involvement in an intimidation campaign of this kind.”
The port operator is International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ITCTSI), a Philippine-based company that is the fifth largest private operator of public ports in the world.
James’ letter was addressed to Enrique Razon, Jr., ITCSI president.
In February, ICTSI was awarded a $600 million contract by the Honduran Public Private Partnership to operate and modernize the port at Puerto Cortes.
SGTM has been seeking collective bargaining contracts with the stevedore companies that load and unload cargo at Puerto Cortes. Honduran law is supposed to protect workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively.
After ICTSI was awarded the Puerto Cortes contract, Crespo received two written, anonymous death threats, which he reported to the police.
In the letter from James to Razon, James said that ITF believes the attack on Crespo “is directly linked to his union’s request for a collective bargaining agreement with the stevedoring companies in the port.”
According to James’ letter, the written death threats included a warning to stop organizing stevedore companies, and as the assailants ran from Crespo’s house, they shouted, “stop making noise about organizing stevedores.”
In addition to notifying Razon about its concerns, ITF also alerted Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the UN’s International Labor Organization, and the police to demand that they take action to protect Crespo and the union’s organizing campaign.
The letter also asks Razon to publicly renounce “all violence, intimidation and threats against workers rights to freely organize and bargain in unions of their own choice” and “to publicly state your company’s respect for international labor standards including the Freedom of Association and the Right to Collectively Bargain.”
Dock worker unions from around the world have begun showing their support for Crespo and the SGTM’s organizing effort.
Leaders of the Pakistan Federation of Labor on September 22 appealed to President Lobo Sosa “to protect the precious life of (Crespo) and arrest those culprits who attempted the attack.”
The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center urged workers in the US to voice their support for Crespo.