JIS News

A two-day conference of banana workers and trade unionists hailing from the Caribbean, got underway today at the Alhambra Inn Hotel in Kingston.The meeting, hosted by the International Union of Food Caribbean (IUF), will discuss the protection of the rights of workers within the sector and the trade agreements between developing and developed nations. Among the countries represented are Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines andSt. Lucia.
Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, in his remarks at today’s opening, noted that the local industry was faced with a number of challenges such as loss of export earnings due to last September’s hurricane, which caused significant damage to the sector and obliterated fields.
In addition, he pointed out that the sector had to deal with susceptibility to diseases such as moko and leaf spot and the strict requirements of the European Union regarding the export of the fruit.
In spite of these obstacles, the Agriculture Minister said that the industry remained an important income generator for Jamaica, with average export earnings of US$26 million, with over 40,000 tonnes of the fruit being sent abroad.
Turning to labour environment, Minister Clarke indicated that the improvement of relations between trade unions and banana employers was an important ingredient in bettering the rights of workers.
He noted that Jamaican banana employees worked under better conditions than employees in most other countries that he had visited, but said that the marketplace still remained competitive.
In her address, Agricultural Coordinator of the IUF, Sue Longley, urged the government to move quickly to ratify the Convention Concerning Safety and Health in Agriculture. The Convention emerged from the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 2001.
She said the ratification of the Convention would result in a standardised, universal working environment for persons in the agricultural sector and ensure that their basic rights were preserved. She noted that the two-days of talks were, “to ensure that banana workers in the Caribbean have a stronger voice in negotiations.”
The meeting continues tomorrow (Jan. 20), with discussions focussed on gender and women issues; health and safety in the banana sector; and international banana work.

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