SITRABI - Guatemala

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Guatemala has been described as the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists by the International Trade Union Confederation. Since 2007, a total of 68 trade union leaders and representatives have been murdered, and a high number of attempted murders, kidnappings, break-ins, and death threats have been reported, along with torture. 
 
SITRABI is the oldest private sector union in Guatemala and represents over 4000 members in Del Monte and Del Monte supplier farms on the Caribbean coast.  SITRABI has good relations with other local unions in other multinational and national plantations.
 
The real challenge is that workers' relatively decent wages and conditions are being undercut by a huge expansion of cheap, non-union bananas in the South, that has become North America’s number one supplier region. With TUC Aid and Banana Link, SITRABI has been able to start the awareness-raising process with workers in the South and establish dialogue with one of the main companies operating there.
 
Noé Ramirez Portela, General Secretary of the Izabal Banana Workers’ Union of Guatemala (SITRABI) visited the UK from 26 to 28 November 2015, during which he met UK trade unionists, government and opposition officials and journalists. He also spoke at the Latin America 2015 Conference.  
 
A report on Noé's visit can be read here, and you can watch a video of  Noé speaking at the Latin America conference about the challenges and dangers of organising in Guatemala below. 

Training and organising Guatemalan banana workers

TUC Aid and UNITE supported a project entitled "Training and organising Guatemalan banana workers". This started in April 2013 and ended on a positive note. Read the Project Report.

The project was carried out in collaboration with the Izabal Banana Workers' Union of Guatemala (SITRABI) - the oldest private sector union in the country, organising workers in Del Monte-owned banana plantations on the Caribbean coast.

The majority of banana plantation and packhouse workers in the Izabal province of North East Guatemala are members of SITRABI, COSISBA or smaller affiliated sister unions. These 5500 or so workers enjoy collective bargaining with their employers: Fresh Del Monte Produce (FDMP) subsidiary, Bandegua, Chiquita subsidiary, Cobigua, and Guatemalan-owned fruit companies under contract to FDMP.

Those working for Del Monte in particular enjoy decent wages, terms and conditions after 40 years of gradual improvements achieved through the negotiation of 3 year-long CBAs. Although workers in the other companies earn well above the minimum wage, they have not been able to secure the same level of benefits as their union brothers and sisters employed by the other companies. Nearly 1000 workers in the Izabal banana industry are still unorganised.

The urgency of reversing the race to the bottom

The unionised workers of the 'North' face, however, the very real risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods in the short- to medium-term, in a region with no other major employers. The costs of producing a box of bananas in Izabal is almost double the cost of producing the same box in the large extensions of recently planted export bananas in the provinces along the Pacific coastal plain in the South. Attempts to organise trade unions in this region have been violently repressed (see 'Guatemala Campaign').

Guatemala now exports nearly four times as much from the completely unorganised plantations of the South as it does from Izabal. The rapid expansion has taken place on highly productive volcanic soils, using a very badly paid and exploited workforce and in a part of the country where government services are often absent and organised crime operates with total impunity.

The critical challenge for SITRABI and the sister unions is to ensure that the 20-25,000 workers in the Pacific South workers have access to education and training that enables them to organise without fear. This can only happen if there is serious and concerted international trade union solidarity, as is being shown by TUC Aid and Unite.

The achievements of the project have been:

  • To empower men and women shop stewards from the Izabal plantations in the North East and men and women workers from the Pacific South plantations through a systematic programme of training
  • To promote unionisation in the Pacific South of Guatemala through organising, advocacy, social dialogue and communication linked to the process of national and international alliance-building

Violence against banana union leaders in Guatemala has been escalating since the murder of SITRABI union leader, Marco Tulio Ramirez in September 2007. Visit our Guatemala Campaign page to read more about the situation and take action to end the violence and imputy in Guatemala.

Articles and Media:

Project Update - TUC, February 2015

Latest Project Report - May 2014

Project Progress Report - Banana Link/TUC Aid, January 2014

Project Initial Report - SITRABI, May 2013

Guatemala: the banana workers' rights situation - Banana Link, August 2011

Watch Bloody Labour - a filmed interview with Noè Ramírez of banana workers’ union SITRABI (2012)