WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a new report outlining concerns about worker’s rights in Peru‘s textile, apparel and agricultural sectors.
The report raised concerns about the right to freedom of association in those sectors, as well as inadequate labor law enforcement in Peru, which has a free trade agreement with the U.S.
The International Labor Rights Forum, Peru Equidad and seven Peruvian workers’ organization alleged in a submission with DOL in September that the government of Peru violated the labor chapter of its free trade deal with the U.S.
One of the biggest issues raised was that of short-term contracts for workers, according to the DOL report, which is a review of the allegations that the Peruvian government failed to meet its obligations.
The Peruvian government’s law governing employment contracts in those areas deemed “nontraditional export sectors” such as textiles and apparel, allows employers to employ workers “indefinitely on consecutive short-term contracts,” according to the report. That differs from the law for other sectors, which limits the use of short-term contracts to five years.
“Workers reported that in many instances those who attempted to exercise their right to freely associate “do not have their contracts renewed,” the report said.
According to Peruvian law, employers must refrain from constraining or restricting the right of workers to unionize or establish or maintain trade unions.
“Nevertheless, where workers challenge the legality of their contracts’ nonrenewal as an act of anti-union discrimination, the lengthy administrative and judicial processes required to do so often mean that the workers do not have access to remedies for a number of years,” the report said. “In addition, only the courts can enforce corresponding remedies.”
As a result, the rate of unionization in those sectors is “less than half the rate of workers employed on an indefinite basis,” the report said.
The report cited a letter sent by six brands and retailers, including Nike, PVH Corp., VF Corp, New Balance, Life is Good and Forty Seven Brand, to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Tasso in March 2013, in which they outlined concerns in the Peruvian textile and apparel industries.
“We are also concerned that [a specific decree] which allows ‘non-traditional’ exporting companies to employ workers on fixed-term contracts, acts to encourage and condone violations of labor rights and therefore poses an obstacle to the proper application of our codes of conduct,” the companies wrote.
DOL said it was “not surprising” that workers employed under a decree allowing the unlimited use of short-term contracts “might find it more difficult to exercise their freedom of association without fear of retaliation by their employer.”
“In addition, while [the government’s decree] establishes requirements that an employer must satisfy to legally employ workers on short-term contracts, the administrative labor authority lacks any protocol or mechanism for verifying information contained in contracts,” the report said.
Contracts are automatically approved without affirmative action by the labor authority, the report said.
Among the recommendations made by the U.S. government to the Peruvian government were adopting and implementing measures to ensure the use of short-term contracts does not restrict workers’ rights on freedom of association, including placing limits on the consecutive use of short-term employment contracts in those sectors; authorizing administrative labor authority to compel employers to renew contracts or revert short-term contracts into permanent employees in recurring cases where employers have failed to comply with requirement, and establishing federal labor inspection superintendent’s offices in all regions of Peru.