The Dole Food Company in Peru has agreed to a settlement with its subcontracted banana workers. The harvesting and packing workers had been denied the pay for the weekly rest day for nearly five years.
The workers' union SITAG has campaigned for the unpaid wages to be settled by their employer, the local sub-contracting firm Seragro SAC. When the company refused to pay, workers went on strike in January 2008 and legal demands were filed with the Labour Ministry. Support for the cause came from the Latin American trade union coordination COLSIBA, US/LEAP in the United States, and the European Banana Network EUROBAN (of which Banana Link is an active member).
Since May 2006 this broad coalition, successfully asking some dozens of other international civil society organisations to be signatories of the respective demand letters, has been pressing Dole to enforce labour and trade union rights in its own plantations as well as those of its suppliers. A spokesman called the December 2008 settlement: “a good partial success that shows Dole is showing more flexibility on these issues”.
The agreement in Peru means 359 banana workers have now received a total back-payment equivalent to US $232,000. This is nearly three-quarters of the unpaid wages according the Labour Ministry. A further 66 workers are part of a follow-up settlement. However, according to union figures, there are at least 400 more banana workers entitled to these payments.
Banana workers have also asked to be directly employed by Dole, as they were until 2003, although expecting today considerably better conditions than those of former days, and to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement. The sub-contracting firm Seragro that employed them from 2003 until now is closely associated with Dole. In another recent case concerning labour sub-contracting for Dole, the Labour Ministry recently ordered the company to employ workers directly.
Change for good?
Before it can be considered that an important positive change has occurred inside Dole in the way the company deals with unions and their demands, there must also be comprehensive solutions found to other conflicts, particularly in Costa Rica and Guatemala. In Costa Rica a framework agreement was signed in March 2007 between Dole and the national union coordination COSIBA-CR. This was seen as a significant progress. However, the unions now say that the expected progress has failed to materialise. In the case of some Dole supplier plantations, anti-union measures are described as “psychological warfare”.
In Ecuador, the first two unions have been organised in Dole pineapple and banana farms. This offers new hope for workers, but so far Dole has not responded to proposals to negotiate at a national level with plantation workers union federation Fenacle.
COLSIBA, U.S./LEAP and EUROBAN urge Dole to seek solutions and provide the basis for stable relations and negotiations at an upcoming international meeting between trade unions and Dole management in Latin America. Dole has agreed to organise such a forum. Now the time has come to reach concrete and sustainable results.
9th February 2009