WASHINGTON — U.S. and Peruvian human and labor rights groups and several Peruvian unions filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday, charging that the government of Peru failed to enforce basic labor laws under the terms of a free trade pact in its garment, textile and agricultural export sectors.
The International Labor Rights Forum, Peru Equidad, a Peruvian human and labor rights group, and unions charged in the complaint that Peru’s “Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law” fails to comply with the International Labour Organization’s minimum standards on freedom of association and also fails to adhere to labor provisions in the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement.
Peru is also a partner country involved in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the groups asserted that the labor issues being raised in the complaint should be addressed within the context of the TPP negotiations.
The complainants allege the law “exempts employers from key parts of the general labor code, allowing them to hire virtually their entire workforce for an unlimited duration on a series of renewable, temporary contracts, some as short as 15 days.”
Garment and textile companies, in particular, have “taken advantage of the law by systematically declining to renew the contracts of thousands of workers who joined unions in an effort to improve wages and working conditions,” the groups alleged.
According to the complaint, the vast majority of workers in the garment and textile sector fall under the controversial Peruvian law, which they charge exempts employers from “key parts of the general labor code.”
Specific garment and textile factories were highlighted in the complaint, which the ILRF and unions claim are “emblematic” of the failure of the Peruvian government to enforce its own labor laws in the apparel and textile sector.
“Major Peruvian garment and textile companies violate Peruvian labor law with virtual impunity, dismissing workers for union activity, employing workers on fraudulent contracts, and failing to pay legally mandated bonuses,” they charged. “Even in cases where labor inspectors have found violations, fines are too low to deter employer misconduct and often go unpaid.”
Among the garment and textile companies listed in the complaint was Topy Top, said to be a prominent company, which the complaint alleges has “waged a well-documented campaign to crush” SINTOTTSA union by “targeting union members for dismissal and employing workers on fraudulent short-term contracts.”
The company has “effectively ignored” orders from labor inspectors since 2012 to convert 740 temporary workers to permanent employees, the complaint alleged.
A second company highlighted is Hialpesa, which the complaint said manufactures for major U.S. brands and has failed to convert more than 1,000 workers to permanent contracts since 2013.
The company is alleged to have threatened to close its spinning plant in 2014 where 90 percent of the workforce was said to have been unionized, according to the complaint. It also pointed to an independent report that allegedly found that management at Hialpesa violated the law by “secretly approaching individual union members to offer them buyouts.”
The complaint listed several recommendations, including that the U.S. government initiated formal labor consultations with the government of Peru in relation to the alleged noncompliance; the repeal of the Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law; and a strengthening of the administrative and judicial systems to ensure compliance with labor standards.