The first ever visit by Latin American worker representatives to the islands of the French Caribbean took place this week. The visit by three trade union leaders from Ecuador, Honduras and Costa Rica, representing Latin American Banana Workers' Union Coordinating Body COLSIBA, was hosted by banana workers' representatives of the CGT of Guadeloupe.
The visit to Guadeloupe launched a programme of work on occupational health & safety and pesticide reduction and is funded by the French Committee for International Solidarity. COLSIBA visitors were extremely impressed by the efforts that have been made by growers in Guadeloupe to reduce pesticide use very significantly. Levels of use are now less than 10% of levels in a country like Costa Rica, according to research sources. The delegation was able to observe the significant benefits that this reduction means for workers and the natural environment, especially since the end of aerial spraying last September.
In meetings with workers from several plantations, the Latin American workers were able to compare working conditions, hours and occupational health issues. Although the working hours in Guadeloupe are much less and work rates less excessive than in Latin America, several aspects surprised the COLSIBA delegation :
- up to half the workforce is of Haitian origin ; although these workers had successfully fought for equal treatment over the years, some discrimination remains ;
- there is no sector-wide collective bargaining as yet, and recent French legislation is an obstacle to an autonomous local trade union organisation concluding such an agreement ;
- labour relations in general are not as good as they had imagined and the evidence from the visits is that there is a lot of work to do to improve social dialogue in the industry.
Banana Link, who facilitated the visit with CGTG, are optimistic that this first step towards closer relations between French Caribbean and Latin American workers will provide the basis for new forms of cooperation and will lead to benefits for workers on both sides. The programme continues with a series of regional and national workshops in Latin America on occupational health & safety issues.
One thing is for certain : the message that bananas can still be grown successfully on a commercial scale without nematicides, insecticides and with low levels of herbicides and fungicides is a very important one to take to Latin America, where the real damage to human health from very high levels of toxic chemical use is still largely unresearched.