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Jun 1, 2011

Over 100 Citrus Industry workers may lose their jobs

Though there was plenty for the authorities to deal with today involving the bus industry and the squatters, the Citrus industry as you are well aware, has its own internal turmoil.  It has been reeling from one dispute to the other and at the center has been the investment by Banks Holdings Limited of Barbados, which is the minority shareholder in the Citrus Products of Belize Limited.  Last December the C.G.A. fired C.P.B.L. C.E.O., Henry Canton, but last week the court ruled that Canton is to keep his post pending ongoing litigation. This Tuesday, the C.G.A. issued a lengthy release claiming that Canton was proposing to fire over one hundred factory workers. That announcement has caused another flare up; the C.G.A. says that only one person needs to be fired and that is Canton.

Eccleston Irving, Chairman, Citrus Growers Association

Eccleston Irving

“The C.G.A. has just been made aware of that information in closing one of that citrus plants and laying off workers. And we are deeply concerned in the sense that that would have wide ranging implications in terms of consultation, one; with the growers themselves and two; with the investment company which is the majority shareholding as its implication in terms of investment.”

Jose Sanchez

“What was the reason given for the closure and the firing of all these workers?”

Eccleston Irving

“Well what we are seeing there in terms of paper presented to the board was the whole issue of rationalizing the industry. If the industry has only about six million boxes, then there might be a need for running only one factory. We have bgeen saying for some time now that we have been calling for an independent study with participation of the citrus growers association, the majority shareholders and the growers themselves as to ensure that whatever is done is taking the view of all stakeholders versus in the past we have seen from a grower’s point of view where the factory has not been able to take in all the growers fruit, the fruit leaves on the tree and then there is other production implications for that in terms of boxes per acre the following year and the year after that.  We feel the issue is on the table now and we will engage the different parties including the management of C.P.B.L. and Banks Holdings of Barbados and the growers themselves and we’re gonna be trying to put together a compact including the government of Belize to ensure that we have a viable industry.”

Not to be outdone, the management of C.P.B.L. issued its own release, making the following salient points; that the intention was never to close down C.C.B., but to “concentrate primary processing activities at the Belize Food Products Limited facility on a temporary basis until fruit deliveries increase.” The C.C.B. facility will continue its blending and packaging functions.  On the issue of the termination of over one hundred employees, the C.P.B.L. says that the proposal is simply a concept paper and that financial implications are still being worked out. The C.P.B.L. management asserts that it is still in financial trouble, but that the cooperation of customers, suppliers and bankers has minimized the problem. The final point clarifies that processing will be concentrated at the BFP facility; not because it is more efficient than the C.C.B., but because it is better equipped to process up to sixty thousand boxes of fruit per day. The release ends with a flourish that “the C.G.A. is acting as the proverbial ostrich in light of Madam Justice Hafiz’s refusal of their request for an interim declaration that the resolutions passed at an Extra-ordinary General Meeting of C.P.B.L. on December seventeenth, 2010 are valid and effective.”

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