IUF logo; clicking here returns you to the home page.
Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

The Sugar Worker, December 2004. News from the Sugar Sector.

Posted to the IUF website 31-Dec-2004

Share this article.

The Sugar Worker
Information and Analysis for Unions in the Sugar Sector
Volume VI, Number 12
December 2004


United States: Strikes At Yonkers (NY) and Okeelanta (FL)

On 29 December, 650 workers at the Okeelanta mill in Florida went on strike mandated by an overwhelming 712-41 vote, having the workers rejected the final offer from the company by a 754-12 vote. The company, Florida Crystals controlled by the Fanjul Family, proposed to outsource the jobs of 182 tractor-trailer drivers, eliminate overtime for working on holidays - along with a general reduction in overtime - and increase co-payments on health insurance, said union sources. Negotiations for a new three-year CBA started on 28 October, and a federal mediator was called in mid December. Workers voted to go on strike on 22 December.

A company spokesperson said that the cuts and changes are necessary "in order to remain viable," especially because consumption is low and the proposed - yet not approved - Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would increase competition in the future. Management would keep the mill running with non-union employees, and there is also the possibility of hiring personnel to replace striking workers. Workers at Okeelanta are organised by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2152.

Florida Crystals grows and processes cane (also grows rice) from some 80,000 hectares. It has three sugar mills, Okeelanta (with a listed 22,000 tdc), and Osceola / Atlantic mills (13,500 tdc). Florida Crystals bought the Okeelanta in 1986.

A spokesperson for Florida Crystals said that to be competitive, they have "to do what the rest of the industry is doing." It is not without irony that the "rest" includes the strike at the refinery in Yonkers, New York, which the Fanjul Family controls through American Sugar Refining.

About 200 production and maintenance workers in Yonkers went on strike on 20 December. The previous three-year agreement expired on 4 October, but the union extended negotiations for 90 days. The company presented its best offer on 17 December, which included a lump sum payment in lieu of a wage increase in the first year, and a 2 percent increase in the second and third years of the contract. The workers rejected the offer on the 19. The union had demanded a general 3 percent increase in each of the three years of the contract.

It was also reported that the company wants a new base wage of USD 12 per hour for starting employees. Currently new employees get USD 14.41/hour, which is $3 less than the base rate. (Workers start at this rate and receive a $1/hour increase on the anniversary of their hiring until they reach the wage base.) American Sugar Refining wants new employees to start at $12/hour; they will get no increase in their first two years, and then will get the annual increase until they reach the wage base. Workers at the Yonkers refinery are members of the International Longshoremen's Association, Local 1814. As with the case of Okeelanta mill, management is running the plant.

Negotiations in both cases may resume in the New Year: About 900 sugar families would have spent their holidays on strike.

The Fanjuls also control the Central Romana, the largest sugar producer in the Dominican Republic, a country that holds the single largest share of the US tariff-rate quota, and a country that, after its Senate repealed the so-called "HFCS-tax," has some chances to be part of the CAFTA deal again.

Philippines: Union-Busting in Two Mills in Central Philippines

The mid-November bloody dispersal of a strike at Hacienda Luisita in Central Luzon draw world attention once again to the plight of the Filipino sugar workers. Overshadowed by the Luisita killings, however, are the less-dramatic struggles waged by sugar workers in other parts of the country.

This report written by Jurgette Honculada, general secretary of NFL, highlights the cases of Central Azucarera de Bais Employees Union (CABEU) in Bais City and the Nagkahiusang Mamumumo sa Universal Sugar Milling Corporation (NAMA-Ursumco) in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental. Both organisations are members of the IUF-affiliate National Federation of Labor (NFL). The Universal Sugar Milling Corporation (Ursumco) is owned by the conglomerate JG (John Gokongwei) Summit Group of Companies, while Central Azucarera de Bais (CAB) is owned by Filipino-Chinese Stephen and Jose Mari Chan.


The NAMA-Ursumco has been the workers' collective bargaining representative since 1991. Labor relations has had its rough spots in the union's 14-year tenure but the union has generally responded to company calls for improved productivity and cost-savings. Thus, management's dismissal of five out of 15 officers (and one member) in December 2003 for "stealing company property" was deemed unconscionable by the union. The six dismissed workers had assisted a labour department sheriff in confiscating a company forklift to comply with a writ of execution related to a 1996 case. The case had been filed for underpayment of rest day and holiday pay, and the cash equivalent of vacation and sick leaves, computed by a labour inspector at slightly over 210,000 Filipino pesos (USD 3,750). Because management refused to pay, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued the writ that served as basis for garnishment of the forklift, causing the dismissal of the workers.

After waiting half a year for peaceful resolution to the conflict, the union filed illegal dismissal charges in July 2004, but the case has moved very slowly. At a conciliation meeting called by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) in March, JG Summit officers said they would abide by the Office of the Labor Secretary's ruling on Ursumco's latest motion for reconsideration on the 1996 case (JG Summit is Ursumco's holding company). But the company did not keep its word, choosing to further contest the April ruling re-affirming the 210,000 pesos award order.

Central Azucarera de Bais

On the other hand, the 380-person workforce (down from 520) in neighbouring Central Azucarera de Bais (CAB) is restive over a collective bargaining deadlock on wage increase demands. The NFL filed a petition for certification election in 2001, which it won in April 2003 but collective bargaining negotiations were delayed by technicalities until this year. The union demands a 40 pesos yearly increase to compensate for the past five years when no increase was granted (except government-mandated ones) but management wants a one-year moratorium on wages starting January 2005. Management is offering 5,000 pesos (USD 90) per worker instead of negotiating wage demands.

Meanwhile, the company has retrenched 37 workers, including the union president, on grounds of business decline. At the same time, the company employs 200 contract and agency workers to fill the positions of regular workers. Management also wants to convert a milling bonus (equal to less than a month's pay) into the statutory 13th month pay, a proposal that the union refuses.

The union awaits decision on the collective bargaining deadlock, because it does not want the case to be certified to the NLRC, as this means more delays: The union has waited four years to reach the negotiations stage.

Update on Hacienda Luisita

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) called for conciliation hearings on the two cases of Hacienda Luisita for 13 December. The plantation case of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) was certified to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which set a hearing for 15 December. This was opposed by ULWU that questioned the NLRC's jurisdiction over the case. A DOLE spokesperson said that even if a case were filed with the Court of Appeals (CA) questioning the jurisdiction of the NLRC, DOLE would proceed with its own process, in this case, with NLRC.

The Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) raised some legal issues on the process, and the union preferred mediation by the Office of the Secretary of Labor. DOLE has not set any date for a follow-up conciliation hearing.

Meanwhile, the death of Marcelino Beltran, who was to appear at a Congress enquiry on the Luisita killings, is being investigated.

Afghanistan: Sugar as Alternative to Opium

On a press release of 17 December, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that it had negotiated six new projects with Germany for a total 3.3 million euros (USD 4.48 million), among which is a two-year and over 1 million euros rehabilitation project of the Afghan sugar factory.

The factory was established in the 1930s as a private sector enterprise and it operated until 1979, when the Soviet invasion stopped production. Most of the equipment and machinery was lost or damaged during the war but, amazingly, the factory personnel maintained the original plant site and some of the infrastructure. The factory is located in Baghlan, some 250 km northwest of Kabul, an area suitable for growing sugar beets.

A public-private joint venture has been established between the Ministry of Food and Light Industries, a group of private Afghan investors, and the German seed company KWS. The Baghlan Sugar Factory Management and FAO would manage the project, in coordination with national programs to eradicate Afghan opium production, origin of much of the heroine trafficked in the world.

FAO would help identifying some 2,000 farmers who would grow sugar beets under contract. The project would also establish technical programs and services to assist farmers in beet cultivation and farm management, and, in cooperation with the factory, would ensure that farmers have access to agricultural inputs and machinery. The project would pre-finance 50 percent of the initial input purchases, said FAO, with payments deducted from farmers' income at harvest.

Afghanistan imports some 300,000 tonnes of sugar per year.

European Union: ACP Proposals on Sugar Reforms

At the 80th Session of the ACP Council of Ministers held in Brussels from 30 November to 2 December, the ACP countries called the European Union (EU) to honour the legal and political commitments of the Sugar Protocol, through the maintenance of a remunerative preferential price for ACPs and LDCs. The Council said that market access without remunerative prices would be economically meaningless.

The ACP Council called the EU to ensure a reasonable transition period of not less than eight years in which the price would be reduced. As well, the EU should compensate ACPs and LDCs in terms comparable to those proposed for the European farmers affected by the reforms to the sugar regime.

The Council also urged the EU to establish a Competitiveness Fund in 2005 to support the restructuring and/or modernising of their sugar industries with funds that should be different from the resources from the European Development Fund (EFD), the latter's are meant to support long-term development of ACPs. The ACP Council expects to meet with the EU Agriculture Council by the end of January 2005 to discuss these matters.

The ACP countries are not the only source of criticism to the proposed reforms of the sugar regime. In a letter sent to the new EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, in early December, ten EU countries: Slovenia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, said that although the sector needs reforms, the price reduction should be more gradual, that the quota reduction should target the largest exporters among member states, and the existing distribution of beet and sugar production quotas should be maintained. This proposal would leave Germany and France bearing the brunt of the reform.

In related matters, the EU informed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it would appeal the ruling that found the EU illegally subsiding its sugar exports. The EU would file its appeal by 13 January. Also, Brazil made some news: even though the WTO ruled in favour of Australia, Brazil and Thailand - against the EU -, Brazilian trade officials said that their country plans to appeal some aspects of the ruling that it believes are difficult to implement. If the WTO upholds its ruling after the EU's appeal, the Brazilian sources said, then Brazil could ask for compensation such as bigger market access, an opening of the ethanol market or may retaliate with tariffs on EU goods.

IUF Caribbean: Reply from European Parliament

On 24 November, the IUF English-speaking Caribbean office received a formal reply to the letter sent to the European Parliament on 27 September, expressing the concerns of the eight affiliated Caribbean sugar unions about the proposed reforms of the EU sugar regime. The IUF Caribbean letter also said the unions expect to participate in the development talks between the EU and Cariforum, in representation of "several thousand workers and their families, who directly depend on the sugar industry for employment and because development only happens when decent employment is available for the workers."

The reply from the president of the European Parliament assures that the "interests of all parties potentially affected by a future reform of EU sugar market regime will be duly taken into account." Adding that, although the sugar reform is a direct concern of the EU Committee on Agriculture, the "Committee on Development will certainly take a close interest in the matter and ensure the position of the ACP countries is raised�" It added, that the IUF Caribbean letter is "useful background information for this work." (The letter from the European Parliament is available here.)

IUF Indonesia: Towards an Independent Sugar Workers Federation

Following the first national sugar conference held in Batu, Malang, 23-25 August 2004, the IUF-Indonesia and unions have continued their work towards establishing an independent federation of sugar workers unions in the country.

A committee in charge of the preparatory work for establishing the federation met on 17-18 September in Surabaya, with the participation of 26 delegates. An important decision of the meeting was to approach unions at RNI (Rajawali Nusantara) and Lampung sugar mills. Union delegates from the committee and the IUF-Indonesia met with union representatives from four mills, one cane plantation and an ethanol factory from the Lampung area on 6-7 October, who reacted positively to the idea of establishing a new federation. Among the Lampugn unions are the ones from Gunung Madu Plantation Sugar Mill and Gula Putih Mataram Sugar Mill, reckoned as the two largest mills in the country.

On 17-18 October, the preparatory committee met once more, with the participation of IUF Asia/Pacific, to finalise a draft for the federation statutes, structure, dues and other practical aspects. The meeting also called for the first convention of the federation of sugar and cane workers unions to be held in Jakarta in February 2005.

In the meantime, the IUF-Indonesia has continued its training program in the sugar sector, with a two-day activity on 6-8 December in Bandung. (With reports from Hemasari Dharmabumi, IUF-Indonesia.)

The first national sugar conference was attended by some 80 delegates from 47 mills, who signed a declaration laying out the basis for the independent federation. The text of the declaration is available at here, from the Asian Food Worker web site, and brief news appeared in the July/August issue of the Sugar Worker.

Health and Safety

Brazil: Six Died in Vale do Rosario

On 6 December, the cover of one of the boilers of the Vale do Rosario factory exploded, splashing some 500 litres of boiling cane juice, injuring some 50 workers and staff, about 20 of them seriously. The first person reported dead was the worker operating the boiler when it exploded, who died while on route to a hospital. In the following four days, another five people died as a result of the severe burnings sustained. Specialists are investigating the accident and the police was to interview witnesses.

The Vale de Rosario factory, with 650 employees, is located in Orl�ndia/Morro Agudo some 380 km north of Sao Paulo, near Riberao Preto. The factory is one of the largest mill and ethanol plants in Brazil, and processes 4.3 million tonnes of cane per year. It also has a co-generation plant. Production is set to resume in 2005. (With thanks to Gerson Edson Luciano from the rural workers union of Macatuba, and Beth Sbabbo from CONTAC, for sharing information on this case.)

Company News

Poland: S�dzucker to Consolidate Production

S�dzucker, the German sugar giant, will consolidate production of the 15 sugar factories under the Slaska Spolka Cukrowa, its Silesian subsidiary in southwestern Poland. The Swidnica factory will take over the assets and production quotas of the remaining 14 factories (nine of which are operating) forming the Slask Cukier, said S�dzucker's top management in Poland, who also said the company would invest 40 million Polish zloty (USD 13.4 million) in modernising the factories. Also, S�dzucker would consolidate operations of Cukier Malopolski in eastern Poland, from five to three factories by the end of 2005. S�dzucker is ranked as the second largest sugar producer in Poland.