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Feb 19, 2016

Fruta Bomba Winds Down Quicker than Initially Expected

Lay-offs at Fruta Bomba and Belize Food Packers Limited are taking place up north. The companies which are located in San Joaquin Village and Corozal Town will be letting go, in the first phase, one hundred and twenty three of its two hundred and fifty employees in its workforce as it begins to pull out of Belize.  A release from the Ministry of Labor says that Fruta Bomba has suffered financial losses, forcing them to shut down shop. News Five’s Duane Moody has been following this story and files a report.

 

Ferdinand Mendez, Former Employee, Fruta Bomba

“It mi hard when yo get it but I can’t do nothing else. What else I mi wah do? Yo just have to accept it; some day it had to come to that.”

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Ferdinand Mendez was a Safety Production Supervisor at Fruta Bomba Limited/Belize Food Packers and had been working there for seven years; that is, until he received his walking papers. He is one of the two hundred and fifty workers that will lose their jobs after the parent company, Brooks Tropicals, announced last week that it is closing its doors and exiting Belize within the next six months.

 

Jose Alpuche

Jose Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Agriculture [File: February 11th, 2016]

“Government was verbally informed by the C.E.O. of the company two days ago, on Tuesday evening, on the ninth; that they had taken a decision to close operations in Belize and that they were hoping for a smooth transition and that the wind down of the company’s operation in Belize should be between three to six months. They’ve stated that they’ve never been able to recover fully from the 2007 hurricane—hurricane Dean—and that they’ve been losing money since then and it has come to a point where they are exiting Belize.”

 

It’s a huge blow to the agricultural sector in the north where hundred will be left without jobs. The company, which exports Caribbean Red Papayas, received many tax exemptions from the government, but says they haven’t been able to fully recover from Hurricane Dean in 2007. It claims it has suffered financial losses and is closing for economic reasons but the workers were told otherwise.

 

Ferdinand Mendez

Ferdinand Mendez

“They mi said that because the company mi go down on the acreage so they had to cut down on the people too due to that they mi di have wah sickness weh mi di kill out the farms dehn.”

 

Duane Moody

“So it wasn’t that they were competing with lower payments to workers or anything like that?”

 

Ferdinand Mendez

“No no.”

 

Today, the Ministry of Labour issued a statement saying that the company intends to “lay off a total of one hundred and twenty three employees,” – almost half the number of staff. The termination started on Thursday and field workers, processers and packers gathered outside the office in the outskirts of San Joaquin, Corozal to collect their severance.

 

Former Employee, Fruta Bomba Limited [Translated]

“For six years, they only gave me two thousand five hundred dollars. I expected over three thousand dollars. I was a field worker. And that included us being paid us for what we did for the day. Sometimes, we got two hundred to three hundred dollars a week and we only worked four days a week.”

 

One worker told News Five that he has been working with the company for seventeen years and all he received was just over five thousand dollars.

 

Former Employee, Fruta Bomba Limited [Translated]

“Next month would have made seventeen years that I was working with the company. I received five thousand four hundred and seventy-seven dollars. I don’t know if that was the amount that I was supposed to get. I have my family and three kids…all go to school. I was a field worker here at the company.”

 

The Labour Department says that it is working closely with the management and the affected employees, to ensure that the legal requirements due to redundancy are complied with and that wages and terminal benefits are paid. But for many of the workers, they have commitments with financial institutions and are left without an income.

 

Former Employee, Fruta Bomba Limited [Translated]

“I feel desperate. I don’t feel well cause it is a little bit of money they gave me. I am here thinking about what I can do because I have debts. And the money that they gave me is not enough to even pay my debts that I have.”

 

Ferdinand Mendez

“Right now I di look at another job, trying to get something else. See how long I could work with that money deh and try find something else.”

 

Duane Moody

“So you haven’t gotten any other jobs?”

 

Ferdinand Mendez

“No, not as yet. My wife…we di try work around it and see how it wah work. We di look out fi something else; even she di look out fi something now fi try get a new job because I noh know weh I wah get and if I wah di make what I mi di make there so even she have to come out and the look fi something now.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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