The Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour Carla Barnett is attempting to diffuse a highly combustible situation between a lucrative industry and the blue-collar workers whose toil and sweat perform the manual labor that keeps the shipping industry on schedule. One hundred and fifty stevedores, members of the Christian Workers Union (CWU), had sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour last Friday that it would evoke 21 days’ notice to strike in what has now been declared an essential service. The Port of Belize Limited (PBL) sits on the other side of this equation under receivership with pressure from ships and regulations regarding rest period between the labour that the stevedores perform for up to thirty hours per session and many weeks before they see another ship to service. After today’s senate meeting, Love News asked Minister of State Carla Barnett what role the Ministry would play since the PBL and the CWU reached an impasse on the renegotiation of their Collective Agreement.
Jose Sanchez: “Dr. Barnett, have you received a letter from the Christian Workers Union regarding the stevedores who intend to go on strike; at this point it is less than 21 days. What is your advice?
Dr. Carla Barnett Minister of State, Minister of Labor: “Well it’s not advice, its preparing to meet with both sides, we are trying to meet with them urgently. The 21 days has been invoked so there are certain processes that you go through under the law under which they invoked a 21 day so we are trying to keep the peace, we are trying to get them to talk, that is what we are trying to do and if there isn’t the possibility of talking then we have to move beyond that because if the Port is an essential service we have to keep it open. We have to keep the flow of goods in and out of the country so we are prepared to work with both sides. The Port of Belize CEO is saying that they had an agreement that if they do reach an impasse that they are supposed to reach to mediation or appoint it to a Mediator, is this what you are recommending or is it just speaking?
Dr. Carla Barnett, Minister of State, Minister of Labor: “I am not recommending anything at this time. We are preparing to meet with both sides and see what a suitable way forward is because they need to do that. We can’t jump ahead of the game, we have to meet with both sides and so before the end of the day today hopefully we would have had that meeting with both sides.”
Reporter: “Are you willing to pronounce on the hours of what is taking point?
Dr. Carla Barnett Minister of State, Minister of Labor: “No I am not, I know that they have been in discussion for a long long time and there is a feeling on one side that they will not back down and there is the feeling on the other side that they will not accept it and so that is an impasse, passage definition of stand off so we have to get into a discussion with both sides.”
Jose Sanchez: “So the stevedores are saying that while their hours are extreme that is how they make their money having additional gangs work a 24 to 30 hours shift would also mean less money during that particular cycle as well as there is more cost when it comes to shuttling back and forth to work.“
Dr. Carla Barnett, Minister of State, Minister of Labor: “I understand all of that but I am not going to comment on it because as I said we have to meet with both sides. I am not going total a position on either side because we have to be fair and we have to seem to be fair and we have to listen.”
PBL had written to the Ministry of Labour saying that both PBL and CWU’s negotiating team had agreed to the appointment of a mediator should they ever reach an impasse.