Workers’ Day in the Salmon Industry in Chile: Workers, crew and Ecoceanos calls for alliances to fight for labor and social rights and the defense of the sea

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  • Union organizations are preparing to face this 2022 of political changes in Chile. The salmon farming sector has become the second most important in the national economy with millionaires and growing profits for companies, but whose results do not manage to increase poor wages.

  • The demands are already historic: respect for working women, termination of work and/or task contracts, ending the subcontracting system, ending the collusion between this industry and private health companies, regulating work schedules and greater workplace safety.

  • The crew of ships that provide services to the salmon industry appear as a front that also supports ending the creation of yellow unions that form the companies and the demand that the authorities fulfill their supervisory role.

Puerto Montt, Chile, April 1º, 2022. (Radiodelmar.cl) – Union organizations of the salmon industry and merchant marine crews, together with the citizen organization Ecoceanos Centre, commemorated Workers’ Day, pointing out the need to form a broad alliance for the defense and recovery of labor, social and gender rights, as well as the environmental protection of the sea.

In the activity carried out online, the representatives of the Federation of Salmon Workers of Quellon, Chiloe (Fetrasal); Union No. 2 of the Los Fiordos/AquaChile company in Quellon; the Federation of Maritime Unions and People of the Sea (Fesimar), and the Inter-company Women’s Union of the National Merchant Marine of Chile, presented their main problems, challenges and proposals for the defense of the rights of approximately 100,000 men and women who work in the transport and cargo ships of the salmon industry, industrial processing plants, and salmon farming centers in southern Chile.

Gustavo Cortez, president of Fetrasal, referred to the long working hours in the industry, where “a worker spends up to 12 hours a day in the processing plant, and away from home. In practice, it is 10 hours, with the two overtime hours being part of the working day, to which is added the time before and after, made up of transportation from home to the processing plant.”

“A woman who works in a processing plant leaves her house and leaves her child sleeping, and when she returns after 12 hours, the child is sleeping again. That is not life. There is also no life as a couple, especially when the father and mother work in this industry. The high production in this industry allows to work 10 hours, but this is not compensated with the great profits of these companies”, indicated the unionist.

Supporting what Cortez pointed out, Chilean exports of farmed salmon increased by 18.2% in 2021 compared to the previous season, reaching a spectacular value of 5,180 million dollars (5.1 billion dollars), which allows it to be the second world producer after Norway.

The president of Fenatrasal affirms that “the average salary fluctuates between 600 to 700 thousand pesos in a processing plant. If someone earns more, it is the one who works more overtime.”

Regarding the discrimination of the pregnant worker, the leader stated that «the pregnant woman for the company is not a productive worker, for which they are unrestrained and expelled, which still occurs in some companies such as Salmones Cailin, owned by AquaChile , which operates in Chiloe.”

The actions of the «yellow» unions created and financed by employers

Fetrasal denounced the creation of unions supported by salmon companies, called «yellow unions». Cortez points out that they are created and financed by employers to reduce the benefits of workers. «They are the ones who defend the interests and bad practices of companies.»

 The women workers of the processing plants of the salmon industry

Paula Arriagada, president of union No. 2 of the Los Fiordos company -owned by the AquaChile holding company-, from Quellon, was present at the meeting held by Radio del Mar, the Ecoceanos Centre and the union organizations, who characterized the workers of the mega salmon producing industry: many “we are single women, who manage our homes and families fulfilling the role of father and mother. These companies give us work, we value that, but we have to report bad practices,” he said.

Arriagada agreed that one of the problems was the existence and the role played by the «yellow» unions, whose objective is to whitewash the public image of the salmon companies. «As there are both our unions and the unions formed by the companies, the negotiation is handled by the company.»

The leader denounced the fact that companies give loans to their workers with the support of the unions. This is used in labor negotiation periods to block advances in their rights. «In the end they are like banks by manipulating and pressuring workers with their debts for these loans, which accumulate and enlarge every day».

Professional illnesses and the collusion of salmon companies with Mutual Societies

Occupational illnesses, especially illnesses in the shoulders, limbs and hands, due to repetitive work and conditions of low temperature and high humidity in which the processing and filleting of salmon is carried out, the affected workers are systematically referred to the polyclinic that company, maintains inside its premises and where basic and emergency care is provided.

The “polyclinic is not bad. But they send us to the polyclinics instead of the hospital. We are not seen by a specialist doctor, but by a technician, who is a good technician, but we need specialists to attend to us. The company and the ACHS (Chilean Safety Association) are in collusion to not provide us with quality health care. This happens regularly with the permanent diseases of tendinitis or cut tendons in our arms”, says Arriagada.

The leader denounces that «there is bureaucracy and excessive processing between the ACHS, the companies and certain public offices such as the Undersecretary of Social Security (Suseso), so that sick or injured workers do not have quality health care, or do not be registered as accidents at work, or occupational disease.”

Fesimar: The demands of the crew organizations that provide services to the salmon industry

José Álvarez, president of the Federation of Maritime Unions and People of the Sea (Fesimar) presented the main problems and demands of women and men who carry out strenuous and risky work days in the merchant marine that operates in the southern and southern zone of Chile.

Alvarez warned about two roots that must be considered in order to understand and seek solutions to the various problems that affect workers. «One of the problems is the unions set up by companies and employers to defend the interests of employers in Congress, or in government offices.» The other is that «our supervisory authorities in charge of enforcing current regulations have a notable neglect of duties, ignoring the different complaints that we make as organizations.»

Fesimar described the problems and their demands regarding working hours and habitability on ships, as well as unionization and the right to strike, discrimination against women workers, and the various impacts on the coastal marine environment.

Long working hours, minimal security and falsification of logs and public instruments

“Our shifts are long, 56 hours a week distributed over 8 hours a day from Monday to Sunday (article 106), with no limit on overtime, taking our families away from us. Our endowments are minimum security. It is not the commercial endowment. Therefore, the entire crew has to be alert and awake throughout the task in a hostile environment,” Alvarez said.

The leader of the merchant workers denounced that “attendance sheets and public instruments such as logs and captain’s order books are falsified on board. This in order to show that they would be complying with the norm and with the days stipulated by law.

Regarding the habitability conditions of the ships, Fesimar pointed out that “the maritime and labor authorities do not participate in the entire planning and control process in the transformation of the ships. The ships that are bought abroad are fishing ships that are transformed into merchant ships, which are more oriented to being cargo ships, with very small habitable spaces”.

Alvarez drew attention to the fact that «the complaints we make to the maritime authority must be made with the name and RUT, so that later the companies find out about this information and who makes the complaints.» In addition to the maritime authority, the leader pointed out the responsibilities that fall to the Labor Directorate and the Regional Secretariats of the Ministry of Health and Environment.

Gender discrimination, freedom of association and the right to strike

In relation to the discrimination exercised against women crew members, the leader stated that “we have colleagues who have studied and developed to carry out their work at sea. Unfortunately, the largest companies in the area are not willing to hire women. They discriminate against them for the simple fact of being women. We have raised this in different tables with the authorities and employers. They always make excuses for the issue of habitability, but this justification is beside the point, because women are already working in smaller companies”.

Regarding freedom of association and the right to strike, the crew leader stated that “yellow organizations are being created to defend the interests of the employers. These organizations give them all the facilities to be on the ground, travel to Santiago with all expenses paid to meet with government officials and in Congress, to defend the interests of employers.

“Many of these organizations do not even have partners (…). this is serious because for the discussion of laws, regulations, reforms, or the discussion of international treaties, these workers’ organizations created and financed by the companies, are the first to be seated at the table”, denounced the president of Fesimar.

A case of on board kidnapping to boycott the right to strike

The FESIMAR leader pointed out, in relation to the problem of the right to strike, that when one of the unions that was in the process of collective bargaining decided by majority to carry out a legal strike “they kept our workers almost kidnapped on board”.

What happened, the leader recounted, was that “the maritime authority refused to disembark our workers. The labor authority does not have a way to go to the boats, since they do not have boats (to supervise). Our kidnapped workers spent up to 11 days on board a ship. Against their will they demanded that they remain there and not join their comrades who were on strike on the ground.”

Pollution from the shipping industry in the sea of ​​Chiloe

The Fesimar leader also reported that they have made several complaints about the serious pollution and waste generated by the shipping industry, for example in the Chincui Bay, or on the various beaches of the Chiloe archipelago. There, the disposal of garbage, sacks, ropes, remains of ships, and even dead birds are recorded: «We have made complaints to the maritime authorities, those of the environment, and politicians,… but everything remains the same».

The Women of the Merchant Navy: Breaking Chains and Opening Doors

Fabiola Castillo, president of the National Merchant Marine Women’s Inter-company Union, shared that “some are surprised to see that we are women and sea workers, since this category seemed to be only for men. I want to tell you that I am part of a union that was formed in a women’s protest »

Fabiola affirmed that “they have encountered machismo, disbelief, the lack of integrity of some people with their female colleagues, and morbidity, since they think that a woman does not go to work on a ship, but rather goes on something else . We have fought against that by breaking chains and opening doors (…)»

«We have slowly integrated into maritime work, but we have problems to which we are looking for solutions, since we are part of a Federation,» added the worker leader.

«We want companies and shipping companies to give women more opportunities to work and show that we are capable.» In this context «we have problems with salaries, shifts and habitability». An example of these problems is that «they make us work for a while as relays, and then they don’t hire us,» said Fabiola Castillo, proposing that «with the shipowners, companies, and us we can solve the problems, and improve life on land and at sea».


Fetrasal and the proposals of the workers of the salmon industry

  1. Elimination of the contract for work and work since it is not a stationary industry. Despite having an intense harvest period, it works all year round. There are subcontracting companies where all their workers work temporarily «by work and task».
  2. Eliminate maternal lawlessness. End the practice of expelling pregnant workers directly or via negotiation. Many of the women who work in maquiladoras and with subcontractors have contracts under the “work and/or task” modality, with term limits.
  3. End the subcontracting system that weakens unions. Union strength has decreased after the usual health and environmental crises in the salmon industry (ISA virus 2007-2008, algal bloom 2017), which meant massive layoffs focused on unionized workers.
  4. Reduce the working day from 48 to 40 hours in defense of quality of life and family life.
  5. Comply with the Directorate of Labor, Sernapesca and the Maritime Authority with their supervisory role. Eliminate the practice of notifying companies of the time, day and section that will be inspected.