The workers of the Panamanian banana industry remain alert to the possibility that the companies in the sector try to block the 8% wage increase that was approved by the National Government and that should start being paid as of January 15. The measure includes successive salary increases for the coming years, 13% in 2021, and 7% in 2023.
However, Alcides Becker, the general secretary of the Independent Banana Workers Union (Sitrabi), denounced that the subsidiaries of US transnational companies Chiquita Panama, Ilara Holdings ING, and Banapiña, as well as the Central American company Cooperativa Bananera del Atlantico had held joint meetings to discuss this measure and that, after the meeting, they had informed their workers that they wouldn't pay the salary adjustment approved by authorities. "If that happens, we will return to the streets and strike, which is the only way to achieve justice," said Becker.
The new regulation also establishes that the companies cannot retaliate against workers, must pay the days they don't work, and that the government will deliver annual school and Christmas vouchers, scholarships for the worker's children, and that they will build 1,500 houses for the workers who live in rented dwellings, temporarily away from their homes.
The president of the country, Laurentino Cortizo, met with 25 union representatives from that sector and told them that his administration was working to find a balance between workers and private banana-producing companies. “We support good investments, we require the private sector, but we also want the companies to help the workers,” he said.
He said that the expected increase was in line with the economic reality of the region and that, according to the analysis made by specialists, this increase wouldn't lead to an increase in the cost of living.
However, Becker reported that merchants in the area had already increased prices in an act of speculation, even though the workers would only be paid $442.52 dollars a month after the adjustment, which is well below the minimum wage and the current cost of the basic basket.