On 2 November 2014, after a long and turbulent process of collective bargaining lasting 19 months, the Union of Labourers of the Banana Industry and Agricultural Associations (SITRAIBANA) and the transnational banana company, Chiquita Brands, signed a new Collective Agreement. The agreement has now come into affect and will last for four years.
“The negotiation process has been rather complicated, but we finally managed to reach an agreement. Despite the fact that the salary increase obtained does not meet our expectations, the most important thing for us was to get rid of the company’s intention to implement labour practices which are harmful to the health and dignity of the workers”, Abel Becker, SITRAIBANA General Secretary.
Since 2005, Bocas Fruit Company (Chiquita) had begun to promote the idea that the banana workers of Bocas del Toro would have to replace the mechanised cableways which carried the fruit from the field to the pack houses.
This new work model that the North American fruit company calls “a continuous cluster supply” would mean travelling up to two kilometres carrying between 20 and 25 clusters, which can weigh between 120 and 150 pounds (55 to 70 kilograms) each.
“We all firmly agreed on this point and we demanded mediation from the labour authorities, so that they could make the company see sense. It would have been irresponsible on our part to accept forced labour practices which puts the health of the workers at risk”, explained Becker.
In light of Chiquita's intransigence and the unfolding of a campaign to denigrate the trade union organization, SITRAIBANA set the 4th of November as the date for the company to change Chiquita’s attitude.
“Luckily, the company reconsidered and we were able to sign the new agreement. However, that isn’t the end of it. We know that Chiquita won’t abandon the project which it is trying to implement in all the banana producing companies in Latin America”, explained the General Secretary of SITRAIBANA.
Abel Becker thanked the IUF for the support they have provided and called upon them to consider the possibility of launching an international campaign, demanding that Chiquita continues to respect the labour legislation and the ILO Conventions ratified by Panamá.
Photo: Gerardo Iglesias