The chronology of events: 5 years of impunity at Prosegur Paraguay
Below is a chronology from the fired Prosegur workers.
25 September 2011 - establishment of the trade union
As a result of deplorable working conditions (such as having to attend to our bodily needs in the truck, working in high temperatures in poorly maintained vehicles with no working air conditioning), a group of colleagues started to discuss the idea of establishing a trade union to defend our interests. In spite of hostile anti-union activities on the part of our employer and their insistence that we would not be allowed to set up a trade union in the company, SITERPROPASA was officially recognised by the Administrative Labour Authority (A.A.T) under resolution no. 62/2011.
26 September 2011: First reactions: as soon as our employer heard the news, they immediately sacked Víctor Fretes, Pío Antonio Hermoza, Carlos Denis and Esteban González. The four colleagues were chosen because the company considered them to be the primary individuals behind this initiative to set up a union.
23 December 2011: The trade union informed the employer of its intention to engage in collective bargaining in order to secure a collective agreement to improve our working conditions. A draft position paper which was approved by the general assembly of the union was handed over to the employers, along with the names of the negotiators that the union had appointed. The company then engaged in delaying tactics, forcing the union to refer the issue on numerous occasions to the Administrative Labour Authority and asking for it to act as mediator in the negotiations.
2 May 2012: During the collective bargaining negotiations, the trade union and employer representatives signed a memorandum of understanding which provided for a two-month period in which the two sides would conclude the negotiations and sign a collective agreement setting out working conditions in accordance with established principles under Paraguayan labour law. It was the employer's representatives that asked for the two month period, but the agreement never came into being due to a lack of interest on the part of the employer in continuing the negotiations. The collective agreement was not signed for the reasons set out above.
Further dismissals, decision to call a strike
During the collective bargaining negotiations, the following workers were fired: Antonio Robledo, Hermenegildo Areco, Víctor Martínez, Alcides Velázquez, Víctor Núñez, Heriberto Ortiz and Alfredo Ramírez. In view of the employer's refusal to negotiate an agreement, the workers affiliated to SITEPROPASA called an extraordinary general assembly on 5 July and decided, in full compliance with the law, to call an 8-day strike. This decision was notified to the company's representatives. The first strike took place from 18 to 26 July 2012, and was extended in accordance with a resolution adopted by the general assembly from 27 July to 4 August 2012.
As is common practice with Prosegur, as of the moment they learned that a strike would be called, they immediately undertook systematic action to persecute the trade union. They also resorted to actions designed to intimidate and scare. At the beginning, as is borne out by the testimony of our members, many union leaders and members received telephone call at their homes, during which employees of the Prosegur Paraguay SA company spoke to the wives and children of the workers, informing them that the worker had problems, that his participation in the strike would have negative consequences on his family, that if he did not change his attitude things would end badly, and that in the end he would be dismissed and would no longer be able to support his family.
Another of the company's standard practices when faced with a strike: hiring of replacement workers
19 July: It had become evident that the company was hiring external replacement workers. We asked the Vice-Minister of Labour to look into the matter and to verify compliance with articles 368 and 369 which determine when replacement workers can be hired during a strike.
21 - 23 July: Inspectors from the Ministry of Justice and Labour visited the company to check whether outside replacement workers had been hired, but the company refused them access to the premises, thereby preventing them from carrying out their work.
24 July: Colleagues from SITEPROPASA organised a march which took them to the Ministry of Justice and Labour. They had an audience with the minister who promised to act as mediator with the company and to help put an end to the conflict between the two sides. This was immediately followed by a rallye in the streets of Asuncion during which protests were organised outside the banks and financial institutions that work with Prosegur Paraguay.
25 July: The protests against Prosegur continued, as the employer was showing no signs of wanting to find a solution to the conflict.
26 July: The protests outside Prosegur continued, but the company was clearly betting on its ability to wear down the workers and to force them to abandon their strike. They even sent a message to the workers telling them that the company would negotiate provided they went back to work.
Return to work and constructive dismissal
Trusting that they would be able to take up the negotiations under the auspices of the Minister of Labour, María Lorena Segovias, the workers decided during a new extraordinary general assembly which was held on 27 July 2012, to end the strike.
No sooner had workers returned to work, they were taken one by one to a closed office on the company premises where they found themselves alone facing the head of human resources, as well as lawyers and notaries public. They were not given any access to an advisor or legal representative. The employers' representatives told them that, using all the methods at their disposal, they would ensure that the strike be declared unlawful. They were therefore told that they had the choice of either signing a paper in which they agreed to terminate their employment contract or to end up with absolutely nothing and unemployed. They were also told that if they signed a resignation letter immediately, the company would agree to provide severance pay as well as compensation for the notice period and other benefits as if the worker had been unfairly dismissed or dismissed with justified cause, both of these cases being covered by Paraguay law.
Every law has its loophole. It is interesting that Prosegur withdrew its request for the strike to be declared illegal on 20 August 2012, as soon as it had ensured that it had everything in place to justify a constructive dismissal.