Saturday, March 14, 2009

Martinique Workers Sign Accord to End Month-Long General Strike

Report of accord to end Martinique strike


FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique (AP) — Union leaders said Wednesday they are ending a monthlong strike on the French Caribbean island of Martinique after reaching agreement with employers on a pay raise.

Michael Monrose, president of the "February 5 Collective", said blockades will be lifted and businesses and schools should reopen within 48 hours.

The agreement reached around 2 a.m. Wednesday after 12 hours of negotiations calls for a 200 euro ($250) monthly salary increase for 47,000 low-wage earners. Those who make more will see a smaller increase. The agreement is applicable from March 1 and workers will receive retroactive pay.

The pact matches an agreement that ended a 44-day strike on the sister French island of Guadeloupe on March 4.

Martinique's employers welcomed the deal with relief but also a hint of bitterness.

"We will have to manage all the collateral damage of 34 days of conflict," said Alexandre Richol, president of the General Confederation of Small and Mid-size Businesses.

As protesters began melting away on Wednesday, businesses began to cautiously reopen — though many owners left their cars parked far away to avoid encountering strikers. Customers waited patiently in long lines to buy leftover products.

Trucks and tractors removed tires and wooden blockades to clear the entrances of several commercial zones and the first of 7,600 immobilized shipping containers began to move as the port also reopened.

A local chamber of commerce estimated that roughly 10 million euros ($13 million) was lost when food perished inside 600 of those containers.

Schools expected to reopen in upcoming days, and classes will be held over the weekend to make up for lost time.

Union leaders had originally demanded a 250-euro ($316) increase, and the strike had turned violent in recent days as some protesters attacked business people and set cars and garbage bins on fire, while several police officers were slightly injured by gunfire as they responded with tear gas.

Business owners have already agreed to lower prices on roughly 400 basic necessities by 20 percent one month after stores reopen.

In the nearby island of Guadeloupe, the LKP collective warned it would resume the strike if government officials and business owners go back on promises to raise pay and lower gas prices. Negotiations over lower food prices and other demands are still ongoing.

The strikes have spread to the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where one police officer was injured by gunfire on Tuesday during an otherwise peaceful protest to demand lower prices and higher salaries.

End in Sight for Month-Long Strike on Martinique

FORT-DE-FRANCE, MARTINIQUE – A month-long strike on this French-ruled Caribbean island appeared to be nearing an end Thursday following word of an agreement between unions and employers.

The accord, which is retroactive to March 1, came late Wednesday after 12 hours of negotiations. It calls for a $250 per month pay increase for 47,000 of Martinique’s lowest-paid workers and a smaller raise for those earning above the minimum.

While union leaders continue to mull over the agreement, employers are counting their losses from the strike.

“We will have to manage all the collateral damage of 34 days of conflict,” said Alexandre Richol, president of the General Confederation of Small and Mid-size Businesses.

The pact is comparable to the one reached last Wednesday in neighboring Guadeloupe after weeks of unrest that virtually shut down all business and government activity.

Before agreeing to the pay hike, business leaders in Martinique had offered to lower the prices of around 100 staple items, including food, by as much as 20 percent, but strikers said the move was inadequate.

With the new accord, businesses and schools are expected to re-open here by Friday.

A general strike launched in Guadeloupe at the end of January spread to Martinique in early February. Both of the heavily tourism-dependent islands are governed from Paris and elect representatives to the French Parliament. EFE

Strikes in Martinique and Guadeloupe restrict export

High banana prices because of limited supply

The strikes in Martinique and Guadeloupe, already lasting more than 30 days, prevent the export of fruit. Because of the strikes by producers, fighting for better working conditions, no bananas are being exported. The French supply has stopped and therefore fewer bananas are available and prices rise.

As a result of heavy flooding fewer bananas are available from Costa Rica and supply from Ecuador is also less. According to a trader the shortage of bananas is the result of unfavourable weather conditions and good prices being obtained locally.

A trader reports that Aldi pay 18 euro per box of green bananas ex port, for which last year only E17 euro was paid and previous to that 14 euro only. It is expected that this situation will remain for a while, as there are no immediate solutions to the strikes in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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