Truckers protest against Chiquita Panama

The Minister of Labor and Social Development, Luis Ernesto Carles, began a mediation yesterday at noon in the conflict between the truckers that transport bananas for export and Brazilian Chiquita Panama in a conflict that could affect shipments to the US and European markets.

The conflict arose when the Brazilian company told nearly 50 truckers, who regularly transport the bananas from the packing facilities at Changuinola, Bocas del Toro, to the port of Almirante, that they would no longer hire all of them, as they were about to purchase 29 new trucks to replace them.

The announcement affected the truckers who have provided this service for years, and that insisted that Chiquita Panama sign a contract with them for a minimum of three years, which was later reduced to 24 months.

They justify their demand by saying that many of them had made bank loans to modernize their equipment and provide a better service. Thus, they argue, some of them are indebted to banks and financial institutions, while others mortgaged their homes or lands.

A company spokesman said that Chiquita Panama didn't have any obligation to hire them all indefinitely, and admitted that the company had decided to purchase new trucks because many of the truckers' vehicles were very old and prone to accidents or mechanical failures.

However, he said, the company can continue to hire some of the truckers that deserve to continue providing the service, and therefore wants to negotiate with them to reach an agreement. The company's proposal is for only three months.

The negotiations between the company and the carriers, in which only the governor of the province, Ubaldo Vallejos, the Regional Directorate of Labor, and Francisco Smith, the general secretary of the Union of Workers of the banana industry were mediating, failed to reach an agreement on Wednesday night.

The truckers tried to force the company to sign an agreement for three years but, after failing to do so, left the negotiation and threatened to block the road by the bridge over the Changuinola River to pressure the authorities to intervene.

Yesterday, the company continued harvesting and processing fruit in order to transport it with some truckers that continue working with Chiquita Panama. Meanwhile, the truckers protest continued near the bridge over the Changuinola River. The truckers stand ready to block it, a practice that causes constant damage to the economy of the province.


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