BELIZE: HUNDREDS OF WORKERS LAID OFF ON SIX FARMS

(Banana Trade News Bulletin July 1997)

Following recent approaches by US companies to Belizean growers, all the migrant plantation workers (many illegal Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadoreans) were sacked in the second half of May from six banana plantations in Belize. They are mainly Belizean-owned farms, but the sackings include all the 130 or so workers from the Fyffes-managed "Farm 3" (80% owned by the Irish-based banana company) and a similar number from Farm 1 (managed by Fyffes for a Danish owner, Sorensen). Fyffes report that all the workers to be laid-off, some 600 - 700, were given one months' notice. Fyffes also lay the blame for the sackings on over-production throughout Belize, with the quota for the EU market being exceeded In 1996, with a total production of 74,000 tonnes (4 million boxes) being forecast for 1997 against a quota allowance of 55,000 tonnes. The increased productivity is due to improved irrigation on the plantations. The Danish owner at least seems intent on planting citrus fruit in place of the bananas. But whether the most exploited export plantation workers in the Americas will be reemployed to work with oranges and lemons by the same owners and managers looks very doubtful, with only 20% of the workers likely to be reemployed in the citrus work. The farms which have closed down seem, coincidentally or otherwise, to be those where the Banderas Unidas (United Banners Banana Workers' Union)~~ under the leadership of Latin America's only woman banana union leader Marciana Funez, have been organising most intensively in recent months. The educational work being undertaken with illegal and legal migrant workers in Belize's banana zone has, apparently, generated a threat in the minds of some of the key players in the powerful Belizean Banana Growers' Association (BGA). The reports from workers of wages as low as US$100 for seven years' labour need urgent investigation. The banana companies meanwhile, continue to believe that they can pacify workers' demands with management controlled ' Solidarity' associations, following the Costa Rican model.

Meanwhile, the BGA has consistently been lobbying Brussels for a higher quota to allow the country to export to the full capacity of the industry. Although currently Belize's total quota volume is 55,000 tonnes, growers claim they can only make money if this is raised to nearer 80,000 tonnes. Now it seems that banana growers are fed up with the low returns from banana production, exacerbated by an EU export quota which is well below total capacity, and have been attracted by potentially lucrative contracts to grow citrus fruit for the seemingly insatiable American consumer market just across the Gulf.

Sources: Belizean workers testimonies, 10.6.97; Trocaire, Honduras, 19.6.97; Fyffes, Dublin, 23.6.97. IFTN Briefing, Dublin.

(BANDERAS UNIDAS (UBBWU) PUBLISHED IN EARLY MAY 1997 A 20-POINT LIST OF DEMANDS TO THE BELIZEAN GOVERNMENT AND BANANA GROWERS. IT IS AVAILABLE FROM THEIR OFFICE (TEL/FAX: 5014-22489) OR FROM THE EUROBAN SECRETARIAT IN DUBLIN.)


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