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IUF Solidarity with Colombian Banana Workers as Union Prepares for Strike Action

Posted to the IUF website 18-May-2006

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With negotiations for a national agreement in Colombia's banana sector at an impasse, the IUF has written the government of Colombia to express solidarity with our affiliate SINTRAINAGRO and support for the union's demands.

In May/June 2004, a 14-day strike by SINTRAINAGRO ended in a two-year collective agreement which preserved the permanent employment status of banana workers, marking a defeat for the employers' efforts to casualize the workforce through subcontracting and "seasonal" employment contracts. The agreement also provided for an 8 percent wage increase for the first year and indexing to inflation in the second.

These gains, however, have been eroded. Indexing has not been able to prevent the substantial erosion of purchasing power as speculation has driven the price of basic commodities through the roof, eroding real incomes for banana workers by some 15% and leaving nearly a third of the union's members below the legal minimum salary. SINTRAINAGRO emphasizes that the loss of worker earnings has come about as the same time as government subsidies to the sector have increased, exports are up and the banana companies benefited from a 7% rise in the price of a crate of bananas on the wholesale market.

Negotiations for the renewal of the agreement opened in April, but the banana growers' association, representing TNCs and national producers, has refused to negotiate an increase in base wages. The union general assembly has therefore voted by a huge majority for strike action if necessary. The IUF Executive Committee, meeting in Geneva April 5-6, expressed its support for the union's demands in a communication to President Uribe. Following the strike vote, the IUF again wrote the government on May 17 to request action to facilitate genuine negotiations and reaffirm our willingness to take all necessary action in support of SINTRAINAGRO.