Case 152

Corte Supreme de Justicia, ELECTROQUIMICA PESADA S.A. c. Ministro de Economía y Desarrollo, y otros,
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Electroquimica Pesada S.A. (the “Company”), was operating with outdated equipment and was releasing emissions of chlorine and other noxious gases into the environment that posed harm to both its employees as well as the residents of Nicaragua.  The Company was required to shut down its operations by a series of orders issued by the Minister of Economy and Development, and the Minister Director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and Environment.

Therefore, the Company filed an application for a writ of amparo (writ requesting the protection of fundamental rights) against the Minister of Economy and Development, the Minister of Health, and the Minister Director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and the Environment. The Company argued that Articles 80, 27, 32, and 46 of the Nicaraguan Constitution protected its rights to continue operating.

The Court held that Art. 80 of the Constitution, which provided for the right to work and the social responsibility to perform work that would benefit the Nicaraguan society at large, was not violated because such provision did not create a rule that protected the work sector; on the contrary, the provision implied a general protection for an individual or collective person and not a corporation. Furthermore, the Court determined that these guarantees ceased to exist once a company operated in a manner that endangered the Nicaraguan people, which is how the Company was operating, considering its use of deteriorated equipment.

The Company had claimed protection under Art. 27 of the Constitution, which guaranteed equality before the law and equal protection, arguing that it was being denied the ability to exercise its freedom to work. The Court held that this claim was erroneous because the order did not stop the Company from continuing its operations as it did not require that the Company fire its employees, but rather merely required that the Company retire the polluting equipment.

The Company had claimed protection under Art. 32 of the Constitution, stating that it was being forced to fulfill a resolution that the law did not require.  The Court held that the defendant Ministers were competent to issue the orders referenced in this case, which instructed the Company to close down its operation.

The Company had claimed protection under Art. 46 of the Constitution, arguing that the judgment failed to promote the protection of Human Rights, in particular, the Right to a Defense.  The Court dismissed this argument by stating that in its pleading, the Company failed to state what the violation consists of and why it had been caused.

In considering Article 57 of the Constitution, the Court held that shutting down the Company did not infringe upon the worker’s right to work as the workers were still able to work wherever they chose within the safety regulations set forth by the state. Moreover, the Court determined that the issue at hand was not that of a work conflict, but rather than of a health conflict, which implicated different laws.

In considering Article 104 of the Constitution, which guaranteed companies equality before the law, the Court found that the State had respected the principles of human rights and the Company had no complaints regarding lack of equality.

Ultimately, the Court dismissed the action of amparo.

 

“Art. 80 of the Constitution states two concepts at the same time: The right to work, and the social responsibility to implement work.  These are concepts that attack human idleness given its own needs and those of the society that man must care for; further, the State must direct its encouragement to obtain the full and productive occupation of Nicaraguans in conditions that guarantee man’s essential rights.  In the present case, “ELPESA” carries out its activities with its employees with the guarantees that the State grants; these guarantees cease to exist from the moment that the Company, instead of working under the good faith provided by Nicaragua, is currently operating, far from being normal, in a manner that constitutes a danger to the lives of the Nicaraguan people.”

“El Art. 80 Cn., expresa al mismo tiempo dos conceptos: El derecho para trabajar, y la responsabilidad social para ejecutarlo. Son conceptos que atacan la ociosidad del hombre frente a las necesidades suyas y de la sociedad de las cuales debe estar pendiente, así como el Estado deberá dirigir sus impulsos para conseguir la ocupación plena y productiva de los Nicaragüenses en condiciones que garanticen los derechos esenciales del hombre. En el presente caso la empresa “ELPESA” desenvuelve sus actividades con los trabajadores que ocupa con la garantía que el Estado le ha brindado, la que cesa desde que la Empresa en vez de trabajar correspondiendo a la buena fe que Nicaragua le ha prestado, actualmente su funcionamiento, lejos de ser normal, constituye un peligro para la vida de los Nicaragüenses”

 

“…because the claimant’s claim that it is being denied the protection to exercise the freedom to work is not true, as said rule is in no way prohibiting the claimant Company from continuing to work, since, under the legal framework, when someone is forbidden from continuing with the activity that is currently considered to be dangerous for the life of the employees and residents of the Republic, and what the authority orders is not to withdraw the employees from the company, but to withdraw the equipment that is being used for production, because the equipment is not the rational person that works, but rather, the irrational mechanical element that supports production, which ceased to be in good condition.”

“…pues la afirmación del recurrente de que se les niega y desconoce la protección para ejercer la libertad de trabajo no es cierta, pues tal norma de ninguna manera está prohibiendo que la Empresa recurrente siga trabajando, ya que dentro del orden legal cuando se prohíbe a alguien no continuar con la actividad que actualmente tiene por ser peligrosa para la vida de los trabajadores y habitantes de la República, y lo que ordena la autoridad no es que retire a los trabajadores de la empresa, sino al equipo que se maneja para producir, porque el equipo no es el ser racional que trabaja sino el element mecánico irracional que coopera en la producción, que dejó de estar bueno.”

 

“Thus, the challenge filed by [the Company] cannot proceed because the Human Rights argued by the claimant itself give way in light of the requirements made to ELPESA, not so much because of the wrongs caused to its workers, but the residents of the city instead, given the uncontrollable emissions of chlorine and mercury, which cause harm and risks to public health, causing harm to the respiratory tracts and the bronchi due to the air breathed that is polluting the environment that surrounds us, to the point that its features cause asthmatic crises, thoracic pain, bronchial pneumonia, coughing, hemoptysis, and other serious illnesses, including, the most dangerous one – Acute lung edema. . . . However, this Government, despite its good will, cannot be indifferent to the facts subject to the request for a writ of fundamental protection, because this is not about a group of “ELPESA’s” workers but instead, the danger that the residents of the neighborhoods will suffer at the site where the Company is operating; and afterwards, the illness that would progressively advance to all of the residents of the capital and the Republic”

 

“por lo cual no procede aceptar la impugnación planteada por ella, amén de que los Derechos Humanos planteados por el mismo recurrente ceden ante los requerimientos hechos a la Empresa ELPESA, no tanto por los males causados a sus trabajadores, sino a los habitantes de la ciudad, por sus incontrolables emanaciones de cloro y mercurio, que generan daños y riesgos a la salud pública, causando perjuicios en las vías respiratorias y los bronquios por el aire que se respira contaminando el ambiente que nos rodea, llegando al punto de causar por sus pertinencias crisis asmática, dolores toráxicos, disnea, tos, emotisis y otras graves enfermedades, entre ellas la más peligrosa de Edema Aguda del pulmón… Pero este Gobierno a pesar de su buena voluntad, no puede mostrarse indiferente ante el caso que origina el Recurso de Amparo, porque no se trata de un grupo de trabajadores de “ELPESA”, sino del peligro de los daños que sufrirán los habitantes de los barrios aledaños al sitio donde está funcionando la Empresa; y después, el mal que avanzaría progresivamente a todos los habitantes de la capital y de la República,”

 

“The fact that the State takes measures against the claimant Company in the exercise of its Power to supervise in the matter of the closure of the Company, does not mean, in any language, that the technicians, professionals and workers lose their rights to work in a place that they choose, in the security that in any place that they would be, they are subject to the Country’s safety measures and the laws that govern them.  In turn, we must not confuse the Rights of citizens established by the laws, with the presence of the workers to want to work only where they want to do so, because this would be tantamount to subverting the value of the laws to the workers’ caprice, which really does not understand the provision of the article that is being studied and that states: “the worker has a right to choose his or her workplace without any more requirements than the academic title and a social function.”

“En relación al Art. 86 Cn., este Tribunal juzga que la razón fundamental de esta disposición no tiene encaje legal en el caso que se estudia, principiando porque este tiene su origen en causas diferentes, cual es la de la salud. El hecho de que el Estado tome medidas contra la Compañía recurrente en ejercicio de su Poder vigilante en el sentido del cierre de la Compañía, no significa en ningún lenguaje que los técnicos, profesionales y obreros pierdan sus derechos al trabajo en el lugar que ellos escojan, en la seguridad que en cualquier parte que figuren estarán sujetos a las medidas de seguridad del País y de las leyes que lo rigen. Por otra parte, no hay que confundir los Derechos ciudadanos establecidos por las leyes, con las pretensiones de los trabajadores de querer trabajar sólo donde ellos quieran, porque eso sería invertir el valor de las leyes al capricho del trabajador, que realmente no concibe la disposición del artículo que se estudia y que dice: “el trabajador tiene derecho a escoger un lugar de trabajo sin más requerimientos que el título académico y una función social”.

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