SITRAP (Union of Agricultural Plantation Workers)
which represents tropical fruit workers in Costa Rica, with a presence in over 40 banana and pineapple plantations, last week signed an historic Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Bandeco, the wholly owned subisidiary of the transnational fruit company Fresh Del Monte
, at its Duacari 4 plantation near Guápiles, Costa Rica.
This is the first new CBA signed between an independent trade union and a multinational fruit brand since the industry and powerful allies launched an onslaught that nearly wiped the unions off the map 35 years ago at the height of the Cold War in Central America. The agreement signed on 10 January in San José has a series of important clauses giving worker representatives in the plantation the time and facilities to meet amongst themselves freely and to present grievances and new ideas to the management through regular dialogue.
Photo: SITRAP negotiators Geilyn Arriola Araya and Eduardo Monge Gradamus signing the CBA (SITRAP)
Although the context of unsustainable low prices paid for this year’s purchases by at least one major European buyer mean there is little room for manoeuvre at local level to improve piece rates and therefore wages this year, SITRAP has nonetheless secured some better piece rate deals for its men and women members for whom every 100 colones ($0.17) counts.
SITRAP are particularly grateful for the support of both the UNISON
trade unions in the UK. This support for training and education in particular has enabled them to increase their membership and strengthen their organising capacity.
Photo: The SITRAP negotiating team (SITRAP)
The union is also optimistic that the signing of this CBA bodes well for organised workers being able to negotiate similar CBAs at other plantations owned by multinational and national fruit companies in Costa Rica. Historically, for all but the first decade of its existence as an organisation, SITRAP has operated in a hostile environment
with employers, large companies and labour legislation that challenges the freedom of association. This is why members and the union’s leadership see this as a critical breakthrough after several years of patient education, organising and dialogue with the company.
Costa Rica is the biggest supplier of pineapples and third largest exporter of bananas to the UK market. The signing of this CBA is also a significant step forward in a country where most of the lowest paid tropical fruit workers still fail to earn enough to cover basic household costs while their fundamental labour rights, such as the freedom to join a trade union, have not been respected.