Earlier this year, the greenhouse workers of Godoy Hortalizas went on strike over a pay dispute. They argued that the company would not pay the minimum wage laid out in the Sector Agreement – offering just 36 euros a day, ten euros less than the Agreement. They were also demanding that their lunch break be granted in a safe place, away from agrichemicals and that spraying of the crops would no longer take place while they were in the greenhouses.
Three days later, Godoy Hortalizas agreed to all their demands.
According to the local union SOC-SAT, the success of the strike shows the role that consumer pressure and the media can play.
Much of the produce grown in Almeria is sold to supermarkets in the UK and the rest of Northern Europe. At the time of the strike, Ethical Consumer was working on a new campaign with SOC-SAT and Delia McGrath from La Via Campesina, about working conditions in the region.
It contacted all the major UK supermarkets about the problems that SOC-SAT and Delia raised: pay below the minimum wage; uninhabitable housing; lack of respect for unionisation; unsafe use of chemicals...
In light of this pressure from Ethical Consumer, SOC-SAT says, one of the supermarkets put pressure on Godoy Hotalizas to enter negotiations with the union and the striking workers.
Strikes in Almeria are often not so simple. Sometimes they go on for months, and there are many reports of workers from the unions losing their jobs once the strike is ended.
SOC-SAT says that a lawyer representing Godoy Hortalizas had previously tried to prevent the election of union representatives and that its own employees had been verbally and physically threatened.
Even once labour agreements have been made, the union says that they are not always respected. But ongoing attention from UK consumers could help to ensure that they are kept: as in this case, shoppers can ask supermarkets to demand better conditions and intervene when abuses are found.
The success of the strike is a big victory for the union, as well as for the workers. José from SOC-SAT hopes it will help not only those immediately involved, but also “have positive effects for other workers and repercussions in the sector” as a whole.
Ethical Consumer plans to publish regular updates from Delia and SOC-SAT about the conditions in Almeria.