Farmworkers in Peru defeat gov’t anti-labor law

By Seth Galinsky
December 21, 2020

Thousands of farmworkers fighting for higher wages and better working conditions ended a six-day strike and blockade of highways across Peru Dec. 4, after the Peruvian Congress revoked the anti-labor “Agrarian Promotion Law.” This was a key demand of the workers.

The strike, which began in the southern part of the country, rapidly spread to the north, paralyzing production of grapes, tangerines, blueberries, avocados and asparagus. Farmworkers’ roadblocks kept hundreds of trucks from making it to Lima, the capital.

“Getting rid of this discriminatory law is a big victory,” Nelson Huamán Roncal told the Militant  by phone. Huamán, secretary for the defense of labor of the national Fentagro farmworkers union, works in the citrus orchards and is a leader of the union at the Camposol fruit and vegetable company in Chao, in the northern department of La Libertad.

The agrarian law was passed in 2000 to benefit big agro-exporting landlords. Last year in December the Peruvian government extended it until 2031. Under this law farm bosses can keep workers as temporary employees indefinitely. This helps them avoid overtime pay requirements, and lets them pay less than the official minimum wage by counting annual bonuses as part of hourly pay.

“We don’t get the benefits we should,” Huamán said. “Sometimes we have to work from 3 in the morning to 7 at night, but don’t get overtime.” The union is demanding that wages be doubled to a minimum of 2,000 sols a month ($555), with all workers given permanent jobs.

“What exists is a whole bunch of contracts where a worker is hired for three or four months. There’s no stability,” Huamán said. “But here in this valley there is work all year round. There’s no reason not to hire workers permanently.” Nearly nine out of 10 workers are hired as temps, according to the government’s own figures, and get paid less than permanent workers.

“There should be no differences among workers,” Huamán said. “We have to be united.” In the southern province of Ica, the big agro-export companies made $6.6 billion in 2018, a 12% increase, a union statement said, while farmworkers were earning $11 a day.

“The supervisors, the experts and the owners can’t keep treating us however they want,” the union said.

Jorge Muñoz, a 19-year-old farmworker at Camposol, was killed when cops shot at protesters. “We want justice,” Flor Jiménez, his mother, told the press, “so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”