QCOSTARICA – The Venezuela state-owned company operating in Costa Rica, CVG Alunasa, sent most of its workers home on Thursday, September 16, without paying their salary for the first half of the month.
In parallel, the company negotiated with the Government the suspension of the employment contracts of 180 employees, equivalent to more than 90% of the company’s payroll. The Ministry of Labor confirmed that CVG Alunasa submitted the process on September 17 and is awaiting a resolution.
This Friday, employer and worker representatives attended a first conciliation, where it was defined that the payroll will continue until October 3 on a permit with pay, while the decision of Labor is awaited.
The employees affected are mostly from Esparza, in Puntarenas, where the aluminum products factory is located and one of the main sources of employment.
“There is great uncertainty about what may happen next Monday, September 27, after returning to the company, at the end of the aforementioned permit,” says the request for conciliation that Alunasa employees presented to the Ministry of Labor.
According to the list of agreements reached in Friday’s session, the employer representatives asked for time to request from their headquarters, in Venezuela, money to pay salaries. Regarding the suspension of contracts, the document only indicates that the factory excluded the women workers breastfeeding, as well as the union representative.
One of the victims is a worker in the production area, surnamed Rodríguez, who has worked for Alunasa for 15 years. She narrated that, at the beginning of last week, in the corridors of the plant it was rumored that the crisis in which the company is plunged would soon be resolved, since, apparently, negotiations would take place with foreign investors who would rescue the operation.
However, on Thursday, without prior notice, she was told that she had to go home.
She said that the employees do not know what will happen to them from now on, since they have only been informed that the company expects to suspend the contracts for six months.
She narrated that, since 2019, the company has had problems with the supply of aluminum, which comes from Venezuela and is provided by a group of state companies. According to her, the last shipment this year arrived in March and, since May, the plant has been shut down.
According to her, during the last months, the company paid the salaries without the employees knowing where the money was obtained from, and without them having major tasks to carry out, other than sweeping and maintaining the facilities.
“There, nobody knew when ingots would arrive, nobody in the company. Just when the trucks arrived, everyone was happy because we knew we had some work for a couple more months,” Rodríguez said.
The worker said that her fear is that the company is looking for ways to make them resign new contracts, to pay them fewer labor benefits. “What are they going to pay us, if they are not even going to pay us wages?” she lamented.
The Nation contacted Alunasa’s legal advisor, Carlos Peña Díaz, who participates in the negotiations of the Ministry of Labor, to ask him the reasons why the suspension is requested. However, the representative indicated that he is not authorized to give statements.
A spokesperson for the Alunasa Employees Association (Asealunasa) confirmed that the suspension of contracts would affect practically all the employees who still work for the company, which, 15 years ago, employed more than 400 residents of Puntarenas. However, both he and the president of the section of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) declined to comment further, for the time being.
The problem in Esparza and dispute in Venezuela
Alunasa has been facing a severe crisis for three and a half years. The regime of Nicolás Maduro and the interim government of Juan Guaidó are fighting for control of the company, while the United States alleges that the plant is used by high-ranking Chavista leaders to launder money.
The troubles were made public at the beginning of 2018, when the company requested, for the first time, the suspension of the employment contracts of 300 people, arguing that it had no raw material, which is produced and exported from Venezuela. However, on that occasion, the petition was rejected by the Ministry of Labor, which alleged that the aluminum shortage could be avoided by the company’s management.
Two months later, in June 2018, the United States Department of the Treasury published an investigation that concluded that Diosdado Cabello, Nicolás Maduro’s right-hand man, laundered money in Costa Rica through the company.
According to the investigation, Cabello ordered the Venezuelan Army to designate employees at the factory to supervise the money laundering operation, which was carried out under the direction of the former governor of the State of Bolívar, Francisco José Rangel Gómez.
According to the US Department of the Treasury, the events would have occurred when the state company Venezolana de Aluminio (Venalum) used ships to move minerals and launder money through Panama to Alunasa’s headquarters in Costa Rica. As a result of this alert, the National Bank closed the accounts of Alunasa and its leaders. Seven other financial entities also took steps to protect themselves.
At the same time, the Puntarenas Labor Court issued more than a hundred freezing orders on Alunasa’s assets, due to the dozens of lawsuits filed by the Esparza plant workers for wages and labor benefits.
Despite the circumstances, Alunasa remained active. In September 2019, the Government denied that the company used the country’s port terminals to triangulate money from the Chavista regime, as reported by the newspaper ABC of Spain.
Víctor Morales Mora, the then Minister of the Presidency, even denied that the company operated any terminal in the ports of Moín and Limón, in the Caribbean, or in Caldera, in the Pacific.
However, in January 2020, the ArmandoInfo media published documents according to which, in March 2019, Alunasa received just over 4,000 packages of aluminum ingots shipped from the port of Matanzas, in southern Venezuela.
For the same report, ArmandoInfo found that Alunasa managed to reactivate itself through the constitution of a new company, Metallik Limitada, to which the aluminum shipment was endorsed.