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Banana workers strike in Panama
Weekly News Update on the Americas, issue #421, 22 February 1998
On Feb. 19 banana workers on Panama's Pacific coast began an open-ended strike against Chiriqui Land Company (CLC), the Panamanian subsidiary of US transnational Chiquita Brands International, to protest violations of the collective bargaining contract signed last September. The Chiriqui Land Company Workers Union (SITRACHILCO) is in talks with CLC representatives but no agreements have been reached. On Feb. 20 the Labor Ministry held a vote count to determine how many of the 4,600 workers in the Pacific coast division of the company are supporting the strike, in order to verify whether the strike complies with legal requirements. Union leader Jose Morris Quintero announced on Feb. 20 that the vote had shown that 98% of the workers were supporting the strike.
Morris explained that the workers are demanding the use of the Pacific coast port of Puerto Armuelles instead of one on the Atlantic to ship the bananas; the company's use of the Atlantic port of Rambala--in violation of the union contract--has put 270 Pacific coast workers out of work for the past two months. In addition, Morris indicated that the company is not paying workers correctly for complying with new requirements for packing the bananas in boxes. The union has more than 20 other points on the negotiating table, but those two are the most important. The principal markets for Panamanian bananas are the US, Germany, Belgium and Spain. [Notimex 2/20/98; La Prensa (Panama) 2/22/98, 2/21/98, 2/20/98; La Prensa (Honduras) 2/21/98 from AP, 2/20/98 from AP]
Union leader Edgar Omar Williams said "the proposals of Chiriqui Land Company have been vague and a bit disrespectful"; the last proposal was "that the points be withdrawn and discussed off the table; that is hardly a serious proposal," said Williams. [Notimex 2/20/98] Negotiations scheduled for 4pm on Feb. 19 were cancelled by the union after the CLC representatives showed up an hour late. [LP (Panama) 2/20/98]
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