Colombia - Urabá

Forum in Defense of Employment
concludes with great success


SINTRAINAGRO plans to form a common front in defense of the Banana industry. The possibility of advancing a regional civic strike is being considered


Colombia’s National Union of Agroindustry Workers (SINTRAINGRO) proposed that a task force be established in the region of Urabá, involving representatives from the Government, corporate management, distributors, workers, and every active stakeholder in the region who has been in one way or another affected by the crisis in the banana industry.


The proposal was presented by the organization during the Forum in Defense of Employment and Social Development, which was held at SENA headquarters in Apartadó, Department of Antioquia. Some 400 people participated in the event, but no Government authorities or representatives of the distributors were present, an absence which was criticized by the panelists.

Guillermo Rivera


Banana workers expressed their concern over plantation closures and mass layoffs, which are justified by management as caused by the peso’s devaluation against the US dollar, but SINTRAINAGRO attributes these events more to the intermediation in the fruit’s commercialization. There was also a clear opposition manifested against the replacement of banana crops with African Oil Palm. Participants revealed that 2000 hands are required to plant 1000 hectares of banana crops, while only 100 jobs are necessary to cover the same extension of African oil palm.


SINTRAINAGRO President Guillermo Rivera said that the establishment of a social task force in Urabá was urgently needed to promote the area’s development, and that such effort required a true commitment from the Colombian government, as well as from the distributing companies and the three transnational corporations that have monopolized this business.


“We want to devise a strategy that will enable us to find solutions to the root causes of the crisis in the banana industry and avoid a social conflict that would lead to a regional civic strike with serious consequences for everyone involved,” the union leader maintained.

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Gerardo Iglesias, secretary of the Latin American regional office of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (Rel-UITA), who participated in the Forum, expressed his concern over the possible displacement of banana crops by African oil palm crops. The cultivation of African Oil Palm around the world is characterized by precarious labor, low wages, and dreadful working conditions, in addition to multiple negative environmental and health impacts.


Iglesias declared that “SINTRAINAGRO has enough influence to successfully call a social task force involving every active stakeholder in the region of Urabá, to work on seeking solutions to the current crisis arising from the peso’s reevaluation against the dollar, which alarmingly threatens the jobs of many workers in the Urabá and Magdalena banana plantations. Workers are fortunate to have an organization like SINTRAINAGRO that has earned national and international respect.

Luis Alejandro Pedraza


For his part, Roberto Hoyos, President of AUGURA, said that nobody imagined the dollar would climb as high as 1,900 pesos. Production costs are increasing daily, with oil byproduct input prices rising more and more. At the current exchange rate, this business is not viable. He acknowledged that they had received more than one billion pesos from the Government, which “is a significant contribution, but in the last three years the sector has lost 1.28 trillion pesos in earnings. Producers are in a very delicate financial situation. He suggested that the tripartite committee be reactivated to deal with the situation.


Luis Alejandro Pedraza, president of the National Agro-Food Union of Colombia (UNAC), said he was in favor of forming a common front in the banana regions in order to defend this agroindustry. He also opposed the possible replacement of banana crops with African Oil Palm. “Two thousand jobs are generated for every 1000 hectares of banana crops and only 100 jobs are created for every 1000 hectares of oil palm, which means that there is an obvious difference in this sense, with huge employment and social implications for the region. He underlined the importance of holding forums like the one in Urabá, as they provide an opportunity for assessing the situation of the industry, analyzing its prospects, and putting forward solutions to the crisis caused by the peso’s devaluation.


Fanny Wilches, territorial director of the special work office in Urabá, pointed out that the Government was closely following the devaluation process of the peso against the dollar, and the implications it may entail for exporters. It’s no secret for anybody, she added, that this situation will have a huge impact on job generation. In this case, every social stakeholder has the responsibility of presenting alternatives to overcome the crisis.


Teodoro Díaz Lobo, president of Convergencia Ciudadana, Urabá, admitted that there are alarming problems, and that the crisis does not affect small and large producers alike. He pointed to the importance of seriously analyzing the situation with the aim of devising alternatives, securing the involvement of the Government, and developing policies for agroindustry.


Luis Guillermo Sánchez
June 6, 2007



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