Back from the brink: Agreement in Colombia

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After several months of negotiations and over two weeks of high tension since the union's members voted for strike action, a deal was reached in the early hours of this morning between banana workers and the industry. The strike had been scheduled to start today in 288 Colombian banana farms.

The agreement on a new two-year collective bargaining agreement for nearly 20,000 workers puts an end to speculation that consumer markets would be affected by a strike. Nearly one third of all bananas exported from the Urabá region of Northern Colombia are consumed in Britain.

The agreement is for a 4% wage increase in the first year and for an increase equal to the rise in the Consumer Price Index in the second year. Employers in the Augura association and the union negotiating team also agreed increases in healthcare benefits, to put more money into the existing fund for housing provision, and to boost the special education, recreation and culture fund.

The deadline for initiating a strike passed on Monday, but the parties agreed to give the talks one last chance to reach a successful solution before the end of this week.

There can be no doubt that the negotiations were complicated by factors beyond the peso-dollar exchange rate and productivity problems in Urabá. «At least one British supermarket continues to sell bananas below their cost price », says Alistair Smith, International Coordinator of Banana Link. «The fact is that retailers are applying downward pressure when prices are revised, challenging the ability for these to reflect real costs of production including payment of living wages.
Retailers who have led the last decade of futile price wars should now understand that the lower they push prices the less likely they are to be able to fulfil their commitments to ensure living wages are paid in their supply chains. We hope that the threat of shortage will finally focus the mind of those who make decisions on banana pricing.
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