Surinamese workers fight Greenheart Group’s labour rights violations

(Photo: Greenheart Group)

The Progressive Trade Union Federation 47 (C-47), a BWI affiliated organisation in Suriname, is demanding the reinstatement of unionised workers and the release of their wages at the Greenheart Group N.V., a global company focused on wood harvesting, lumber-processing, marketing and sales and provision of timber and lumber products. 

C-47 together with its local affiliated trade union GGWO, that represents company workers, are also demanding the company to provide its workers adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure occupational health and safety. It said that the company disregards the workers’ health and safety, with 22 workers already filing a formal complaint before their management due to the lack of dust masks. 

“It is not only about protecting workers from the fine dust produced by sawmills, but also ensuring that minimum measures are met to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the plant,” C-47 President Robby Berenstein said. 

The company responded poorly by indicating workers to wear wet handkerchiefs to cover their faces instead of providing proper PPEs. This is despite the ruling of the labour inspection department that the “masks” provided by the company were unsafe. This forced the workers to make their own dust masks, and ultimately, to refuse to continue to work in protest of the workplace’s unhealthy conditions. 

The company reportedly retaliated by requesting the Dismissal Committee of the Ministry of Labour to terminate the 22 workers arguing that it is suffering from economic losses caused by the workers’ work stoppage. This was rejected by the authorities siding with the unionists’ position that the request was anti-union.

A labour court also ruled in favour of a formal complaint filed by the trade unionists on 1 October,  ordering Greenheart N.V. to pay all the wages it owed to its workers since May 2020. 

However, the company continues to deprive the involved workers of their jobs and salaries. 

At present, C-47 has launched a public campaign to denounce the company’s wanton violation of trade union and labour rights, and force it to comply with the authorities’ orders.  

Greenheart Group currently owns 60.4% in one of Suriname's largest natural forest concession with vertically integrated operations and harvesting rights to approximately 184,000 hectares of high quality hardwood.