Spotlight on Carlos, teamster in Lima (FETTRAMAP - Peru)

A day of hard labour gets under way for Carlos, an unskilled worker affiliated to the local union.

It’s nearly one in the morning. Most of the inhabitants of Lima are still in bed. But at the number 1 wholesale market, which serves a large part of the Peruvian capital, trucks laden with vegetables are already coming in from around the country. They must be unloaded quickly so that the produce makes it to the retailers by dawn.

There’s no time to lose. A day of hard labour gets under way for Carlos, an unskilled worker and member of the local union. It’s his turn. His union organises the work using a revolving system based on when the trucks arrive.

"Each sack weighs 110, 120 or 130 kilos. Sometimes I have to lift the sacks with a cart so that the others can carry them. I do both: unloading sacks and lifting them. Unloading and lifting."

During the weekend, when activity reaches a peak at Lima’s leading vegetable market, Carlos unloads and stacks up to 400 sacks of potatoes a night.

"There’s a decree that says that each sack cannot weigh more than 55 kilos. But they’ve been talking about that for years. Nothing ever happens. The sacks aren’t getting any lighter."

Peruvian law is not enforced, and some sacks are so full they weigh up to 150 kilos. So it’s no surprise that most of these tough men, transformed into beasts of burden, complain of aches and pains in their spine, back and knees after just a few months of work.

“When a truck arrives at three in the morning, the driver will sometimes tell us to move fast and order us to run. That’s when it’s all too easy to make a wrong move and snap a tendon."

As the truck is emptied, the job gets trickier for Carlos and his unionised co-workers. Mountains of potatoes rise high above them. To get to the top, they have to climb up handrails, balancing like a tightrope-walker. There’s always a risk they’ll slip, drop the goods or fall.

According to the union’s general secretary, handling excessively heavy loads is the main problem facing unskilled labourers.

"If a worker is hurt in an accident, we are here to support him. How? By paying our membership fees. If a solidarity event is organised, a meal for instance, we make a contribution because we don’t have insurance. We are citizens who have been forgotten by the government. We pay for ourselves. We are self-employed."

Carlos joined the union to protect his interests. Just like some 180 other co-workers. They can be recognised by their blue tunics.

"As union members we pay membership fees so that we can be sure of having a pension. For example, if I work for 10 years, then I’ll receive a certain sum when I retire."

For now, Carlos earns between 40 and 50 new Peruvian sols (between €9.60 and €12). That’s enough to put food on his family’s table. But he knows that he cannot do this job for long: it is just too physically demanding.

That’s why he took up computer studies a few months ago. His union helps him with that too.

"It’s easy because an Internet café has been set up on the union’s premises. That’s where I do my homework and practice. The union leaders let me use a computer free of charge."

Thanks to the union, several workers from the same local have received study grants.
Only when the rest of Lima is waking up does Carlos has a chance to lie down in the union room, get some rest and dream of computers.

FETTRAMAP - Federación Nacional de Trabajadores Terrestres y Transportistas Manuales -

(Camera: Ivan Castañeda, Director: Laurent Duvillier, Post-production: Benoit Collienne)