Nearly 4,500 workers have brought 21 banana farms in the Bocas del Toro Division to a standstill since 6:00 am, which has prevented the Chiquita Panama company from packing about 50 thousand boxes of fruit to export.
The reason for this strike is the Executive’s delay in sanctioning Bill 145, which reduces the retirement age for banana workers, from 62 years to 58 years for men, and from 57 to 54 years for women, since this job’s difficult conditions rapidly deteriorate the health of those who dedicate themselves to it.
Francisco Smith, general secretary of the Banana Industry Workers’ Union (Sitraibana), told the media that the stoppage was a measure to put pressure on the executive. 15 days ago President Juan Carlos Varela himself promised to sanction and Promulgate Bill 145, but still hasn’t signed it, so producers feel duped.
Last Friday, the president visited the province, met with the trade union leaders, and told them that he would sanction the desired project by Tuesday 13; something that still hasn’t happened.
The Minister of Housing, Mario Etchelecu, and the Deputy Minister of Labor and Labor Development, Zulphy Santamaria, stated in a press conference that there was a delay in the sanction of the law because of the economic impact that it would have, and that the executive needed to find the funds to finance this early withdrawal before signing the Bill.
Because of this, they said, the Ministry of Economy and Finance must now find the necessary resources to finance these new pensions, based on the calculations provided by the economists of the Social Security Fund.
However, yesterday at 5:00 pm, the head of Sitraibana decided it was going to continue its strike until Bill 145 is sanctioned, just as it was approved by the National Assembly and sent to the Executive.
An authorized source from Chiquita Panama expressed the company’s concern regarding the Union’s attitude, as the production is going through its best moment. The spokesman said the company had expanded its payroll from 3,000 to 4,500 workers, and that before they produced 20 to 30,000 boxes of fruit a day, but that they now could pack up to 50 thousand boxes of fruit a day. “We are losing $600,000 a day because of this strike,” he said.
Currently, only 21 farms of the independent banana farmers and eight packers that are served by the Independent Banana Workers’ Union (Sitrabi) are working, which is not enough for the current fruit production.