Banana workers from 20 plantations in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe went back to work this week after a six-week long strike over a range of issues covering their system of payment and occupational health & safety issues. The strike, which started on 18th May and gained the support of the majority of the workforce, has concluded with an agreement with the islands’ producers’ association. It is hoped that this agreement lays the foundation for improved relations in an industry where there is no collective agreement regulating pay and working conditions.
Workers block a road during the strike
The agreement establishes the framework for negotiating working conditions, notably on the issue of the enforcement of law around monthly wage payments, CGT Guadeloupe union’s General Secretary Jean-Marie Nomertin told the press.
The law has been in force since 1989 and gives employees the right to a regular monthly wage rather than having to rely on fluctuating piece-rate-base payments. However, the French law has not been enforced in Guadeloupe where daily rates and piece rates are the norm in the banana industry.
"According to our calculations, for the last five years, the amounts due to workers for non-payment of regular monthly wages range from 4,000 to 25.000 euros per worker," said Nomertin.
Workers and the CGTG union insisted on the effective enforcement across the industry of all the provisions of a labour tribunal judgement of 31st March concerning the Bois Debout plantation, the largest in Guadeloupe. The company was fined for non-payment of regular monthly wages as well as for unacceptable working conditions. Producers had argued that it was not possible to apply a judgement concerning one producer to all the rest of the industry, given the diversity of situations. However, the agreement estabish a mechanism to treat all producers and workers on a case by case basis.
In the end, it was the Prefect, the French government representative in the island, who brokered the agreement. Jérôme Niberon, lawyer for the producers’ association told the press that "we are going to create a joint committee that will meet weekly over a period of four months to look at every case and iron out the irregularities".
In October, the parties will start to discuss solutions to the other demands of banana workers, "concerning improvements in health and safety practices and other working conditions". One demand from workers is for the provision by employers of appropriate work clothing.
The CGTG and counterparts in the French trade union movement have been campaigning for the ratification by the French government of ILO conventon 184 on Health & Safety in Agriculture, which would provide a legal framework for improving occupational issues – heavy loads, exposure to pesticides, hours of walking etc - that have been a bone of contention for years.
Worker also argued that the employers are well subsidised, to the tune of nearly a million euros a year for the next 5 years, and can afford to fund such improvements.
Sources: AFP, 1st July 2017 and CGTG.