Agreements to eliminate precarious plantation work in Costa Rica, to negotiate an international sexual harassment and discrimination agreement and to explore provision of special employment protection for union representatives were products of the Costa Rica meeting between the IUF, COLSIBA and Chiquita on April 19.
Chiquita committed to ending the practice of short-term contracts in 18 of its 28 plantations and to end the practice in the remaining 10 plantations by the end of 2011. The system of rolling 5.5 month employment contracts is common in Costa Rica and leaves workers facing long-term precarious employment status and places limits on their rights in many cases over many years. The agreement arose during discussions of the issue in the latest of the bi-annual meetings which the IUF attends together with affiliates, COLSIBA and senior corporate Chiquita management. IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commenting on this important step said, “This is a longstanding request from our members in Costa Rica. They have called for the ending of this unacceptable “permanent temporary status” for some time and the IUF is pleased that Chiquita has now agreed to end this practice. It will allow for Chiquita workers to work with permanent contracts and to have far greater access to a range of rights.“
In the same meeting Chiquita, the IUF and COLSIBA agreed to establish a working group to develop an annex to the 2001 regional agreement addressing issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in Chiquita operations. The group will work on proposals for a joint agreement to be discussed and finalized at the next meeting of the Review Committee later in 2011. Oswald welcomed this step forward commenting, “Sexual harassment in banana plantations, notably in packing areas where the majority of women work, has been historically far too common and remains too common today. We recognize that Chiquita has a well-developed internal policy seeking to eliminate the problem but its willingness to sit with unions regionally and internationally to develop a common agreement to drive this practice out of Chiquita workplaces is welcome and will have a real impact on the ground.“
In a third area of agreement the company has agreed in principle to a “Memorandum of Understanding” providing specific protection for recognized union representatives and leaders against disciplinary measures and dismissal. The content of the MOU will be discussed prior to the next meeting. In noting this third area of agreement Oswald said, “There are constant allegations that recognized union leaders are pressurized in many companies in the banana sector. In agreeing to take this action Chiquita, the IUF and COLSIBA have sent a strong signal that such pressure will not be tolerated inside Chiquita operations. In line with ILO Convention 135 we look forward to reaching an agreed set of protections to guarantee that such pressure cannot happen in the future”
The meeting concluded with a number of issues unresolved but progress in these three important areas was welcomed by the IUF as a significant outcome from the IUF’s on-going engagement with Chiquita’s senior management.