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Forced Labour and Trafficking

CTA Argentina: The Sindicato de Tareferos (the yerba mate pickers’ trade union) calls for a vocational rehabilitation programme

They call on the Government to implement an urgent aid plan to guarantee the physical, psychological, medical, nutritional and legal safety in order not to aggravate the already extremely vulnerable position which they find themselves in. Furthermore, they demand protection for themselves and their families against any retaliatory action.

The Sindicato de Tareferos, Trabajadores Transitorios y Desocupados (Trade union for yerba mate pickers, casual workers and the unemployed), affiliated to CTA Misiones, demanded the implementation by the Provincial or National State of a programme for the support and vocational rehabilitation of the workers who have been reduced to slavery in the province’s yerba mate plantations.
The union stressed the urgency of avoiding the deterioration of the extremely vulnerable position of these yerba mate pickers as a result of the reports by the AFIP and Ministry for Labour, regulatory bodies that reported the labour exploitation which the union has denounced in the past.
“Once the trade union, the AFIP or the Ministry for Labour have left, we need a guarantee that those workers are going to receive assistance, that controls and recovery measures will be put in place. The trade union stressed the need for “the State to enforce the law, to guarantee them food, medical and legal aid, prevent retaliation and ensure that they are not re-victimised”.
In the province, a total of 51 adults and 6 children have already been found working in sub-human conditions, victims of human trafficking and reduced to slavery.
Last Friday, a representative of the AFIP; the Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (Federal Administration of Public Revenues) discovered a camp in a town in Montecarlo, in Guatambú, where 7 adults and a little boy were working “cash in hand” in the yerba mate fields of one of the zone’s producers whose identity has not been confirmed as yet. They lived for the week in black tents, sleeping on mattresses in the mud, without water or toilets, isolated without the most basic hygiene and safety conditions, exposed to all kinds of risks.
“What can I say, this is the pits, there is a mountain of insects, mosquitoes, spiders, ants, and the humidity is a disaster. You need to go to the toilet in the woods because there isn’t one here, we need to get water from a stream a thousand metres away”, pointed out one of the tareferos that we met on Friday morning in Guatambú.
In debt before going to the yerba mate fields
Before going to the camp, they need to equip themselves with all the supplies they will need for the days that they will be in the fields, putting themselves into debt before they even begin to the contractor, Carlos González, the team leader from Puerto Rico said.
“When we came we had to bring supplies that cost 100 - 200 pesos to last us for the week, they later deduct this from what they owe you. You get 160 per tonne, in a good week you can harvest 2,000 kilos, but sometimes you harvest 500 or 1,000 kilos and you have nothing left” – he added.
In the Guatambú camp, located approximately 5 kilometres from route 12, there is no mobile phone signal or electricity. If one of the workers has an accident, he/she will need to walk for several minutes to tell the contractor but more than likely, they will have to wait the whole week for treatment.
Machete cuts and all kinds of insect bites get infected. “I got stung by wasps, my whole arm swelled up and I was here like that for about three days, but I continued working. I didn’t say anything to the boss because I didn’t have enough money to pay for the vaccine even though I’m allergic” said another tarefero. There is no medical care to assist in case of injuries such as these or others.
On Friday morning when they were discovered by the AFIP inspectors, they were already finishing the week’s harvest, and were waiting for the lorry in order to load the bales. Once this was done, they would then have to wait for a van to bring them to Garuhape where the majority of them come from. “Today we are going to make sure that the van is here before we load, because last week the lorry came, we loaded the yerba mate and they drove off and left us stuck here” complained another worker.
The alleged crime
The AFIP said that it will notify the judiciary who should investigate the responsibility of the contractor, the yerba mate producer and the end user for the raw material in the alleged case of human trafficking. The Sindicato de Tareferos then demanded that the assistance provided by the law for the prevention and punishment of human trafficking and assistance to the victims be implemented urgently to avoid the ongoing violation of these workers’ rights.
Law 26,364, enacted in April 2008, in article 2 defines, “adult human trafficking as the recruitment, transport and or transfer within the country or, from or to a foreign country, welcoming or receiving persons over eighteen (18) years of age for the purpose of exploiting them, where it involves deception, fraud, violence, threats or any other means of intimidation or coercion, abuse of authority or of a position of vulnerability, giving or receiving payments or profits or benefits to obtain the consent of a person having control over another person, even when that person has consented.
In accordance with Article 4 of the same law, a person is the victim of exploitation “when they are reduced to or kept in slavery, servitude or slavery like practices; when a person is obliged to carry out forced labour or services”.
Article 6 of the anti-trafficking law also provides for a set of measures to protect the victims, the most significant of which are:
The right to receive adequate lodging, board, sufficient food and adequate sanitary conditions, the provision of free psychological, medical and legal aid, the ability to give evidence in special protective circumstances, protection against any possible retaliation against them or their family, through the national witness protection programme under the provisions of law no. 25,764, the implementation of the measures necessary to guarantee their physical and psychological integrity. To be informed about the status of their actions, of the measures adopted and the development of the process, that their voice be heard in all stages of the process, the protection of their identity and their privacy, to stay in the country in accordance with the law in force and to receive the documentation or the proof that support their circumstances, aid to help them to return to their place of origin, free and voluntary access to aid services.

* CTA Mision Communications Team
TUCA website article
Original article on the CTA website
More on the Sindicato de Tareferos (in Spanish)