Banana Workers On Strike

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 30 October 2011

Banana workers in Puerto Wilches have been on strike for a month in protest at the banana plantation companies’ use of so-called ‘cooperatives of associated labour’ (CTA). In 2008 workers in the same area went on strike for the same reason, but despite some promised agreements, the CTA remain in use by the plantation companies. The CTA were singled out for criticism in the Labour Action Plan signed by President Santos in return for the US pushing through the free trade agreement with Colombia, and President Santos committed to the elimination of these ‘cooperatives’ which are really a cover for individual contracts with workers. The striking workers are using this promise as the basis of their action.

Over 6,000 SINTRAINAGRO workers at 6 plantations in the Magdalena region of Colombia are on strike and yet for the last month there has been no response from the banana companies which together employ over 3,000 people through the CTAs. The CUT trade union federation has called for negotiations to resolve the dispute, but the government ordered the ESMAD riot police to disperse assembled workers on the 21st of October. The following day the CUT organised a solidarity caravan to the region, made up of representatives of social organisations and trade unions.

SINTRAINAGRO has reported that it is now facing over 400 legal cases that have been brought against it by management and full-time contracted employees of the banana companies, citing the breach of their right to work. In a similar fashion the police have been presented with ‘tutela’ cases (oversight cases which any citizen can put to a judge in order to defend their human rights) for not forcing workers away from their pickets of banana plantations. Unions also report that the companies paid for people to demonstrate against the strike. After speaking to participants it emerged that they were being paid 35,000 Colombian pesos to be there, and they had no idea what they had been hired for.

After the 2008 strike, the companies negotiated individually and promised to improve conditions for subcontracted workers, however SINTRAINAGRO reports that these improvements were fleeting, and a return to poor working conditions soon occurred. This is why the workers currently on strike want to hold out for a negotiation including all the banana companies which would end subcontracting as a practice.

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