Workers receive some back wages from Suriname banana company

By Arny Belfor, Associated Press, Saturday 29 June 2002,12:42 PM ET

PARAMARIBO, Suriname—The government paid workers of its banana plantations their first wages since February, but gave no indication of when it might reopen the financially troubled company and resume harvesting fruit.

Most of Surland company's 1,500 full-time workers received 200,000 Surinamese guilders (dlrs 92) on Friday, less than one month of a normal salary that can range from 300,000 to 600,000 guilders (dlrs 138 to dlrs 277).

We know it is not much, but the government is doing the best it can, said Anand Ramkisoensing, acting managing director of the company. Security workers, who continued to guard the company after it was closed indefinitely on April 8, received higher amounts, he said, but would not say how much.

The union said it was disappointed with the offering, which was half of the 400,000 guilders (dlrs 184) it had requested and offered nothing to the company's 600 part-time workers.

The part-time workers, many of them single mothers, have not been able to earn since Surland was closed. They are human too, union spokesman Kenneth Soekoel said.

The government closed the company, which is dlrs 8 million in debt, saying it could no longer pay wages. Workers spent weeks protesting, until June 17 when they insisted on resuming the harvest to keep the fruit from rotting on the trees and attracting pests or disease.

After one week, the government again locked the gates at the two plantations, saying it could not allow them to continue working unsupervised.

The government has not said when it would reopen the company, which produces bananas from two plantations \u2014 in Jarikaba, 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Paramaribo, and in Nickerie, 250 kilometers (156 miles) west of the capital.

All I can say is that the government is working hard to solve the problems, Ramkisoensing said. In the past, the government has said it would only reopen the company if it could cut 600 full-time jobs and reduce remaining salaries as much as 40 percent.

With the prolonged closure, Surland risks losing its sole foreign buyer, Ireland-based Fyffes, which has threatened to break its contract if the company does not reopen soon.

Surland's financial problems worsened in 2000 when Fyffes, a leading European distributor of fresh produce, started paying 30 percent less for the 40,000 boxes of bananas it buys weekly. It used to pay dlrs 8 a box, but then the price fell to dlrs 5.30.