CWU and GOB strike an agreement

CWU and GOB strike an agreement

After threats of industrial action, multiple meetings, and weeks of negotiating, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the Government of Belize have come to an agreement that will see the government cough up some one-point-six-million-dollars in ex-gratia payment for the stevedores. The agreement was made this morning at Charter House during a meeting hosted by Prime Minister John Briceno, and including the CWU, the Port of Belize’s Interim CEO, Arturo Tux Vasquez, and four Cabinet Ministers.  The meeting dealt primarily on the stevedores’ cries for a bulk sugar redundancy package. Last month, the parties came close to sealing the deal, but the union had issues with certain conditions which had delayed a final agreement. Last Wednesday, the situation reached a boiling point, and the seafront workers had refused to work for almost three days. Police were called into the port, and tensions rose as the stevedores were demanding to see the Prime Minister immediately.  It was not until CWU’s President, Leonora Flowers, and Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde reached a compromise that saw the stevedores go back to work in good faith until they could have an audience with the Prime Minister. That meeting happened today, and by all accounts, today’s outcome has produced a clean slate for all parties to move forward.  Prime Minister Briceno spoke to the media after almost an hour’s long negotiation and explained that an official document will be inked tomorrow. 

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “We believe that by tomorrow we’re supposed to be able to sign an agreement for us to be able to move forward. There’s a general consensus from both sides that these work stoppages is not in the interest of anyone, that it does not help the Christian Workers Union or the stevedores nor does it help the Port of Belize nor the country of Belize. We recognize now that there is a competition, that some boats are threatening that if this is not sorted out that they will consider going south to the Big Creek Port to offload their cargo. So I believe that today we managed to settle pretty much all of these issues. We will be signing that formal agreement tomorrow which will form a part of the new CBA that we’re going to start the work on the new CBA pretty much immediately as soon as finish this. But basically we’ve agreed to the number of gangs that we’re gonna have, how many members per gang which already most of it is already listed out in the present CBA that is not going to change. We also have agreed now that the big ships that will be able to have two gangs working on the big ships so that the ships would no longer have to wait until the gang rests and comes back to offload. So these are the things that are going to; a, benefit the Port of Belize by improving efficiency also obviously it will benefit our consumers because at the end of the day they have to pay for this and thirdly also benefit the stevedores because then again they I believe would be able to work more effectively, more efficiently and we hope that then we’ll be able to be rewarded for the work.”

One of the major points of contention in the negotiations was the number of stevedores comprising a gang. The government had insisted the gangs be equal in size, at all shifts, but the union resisted. President Flowers and Prime Minister Briceno explained that the matter was resolved amicably and will be solidified in the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the Port of Belize Limited.

Leonora Flowers, President, CWU: “We believe it’s palatable for our members. In fact we were given certain instructions before we arrived for this meeting and we have found that they’ve met with our requirements so our members will be pleased with the response that we’re taking back to them. Yes indeed we’re going to sit with our attorney and get the document drafted, forward it to the other side’s attorney and so we can move on that. One of the things that we had wanted was to commence the CBA negotiations and that has also been agreed to. So as soon as we’ve completed this agreement and the PM has offered a next ex gratia payment that goes to the House for approval and after that we commence as we had discussed, within the next week our CBA which is what we really want to do on behalf of our members. The Prime Minister has agreed that we allowed that to be container gang so the thirteen members is to remain at counting a gang. With that we’re okay that’s what we always wanted.”

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “And also in the present CBA there is a number of differentiation of different gangs for different types of containers and so that is going to remain, that is not going to change. It’s already in the present CBA and that’s going to go into the new CBA.”

While many welcomed the government’s intervention in the dispute, one entity that criticized the government’s intervention in private matters has been the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The body says the government using public funds to resolve private matters is unsustainable and needs to come to an end. However, Prime Minister Briceno feels otherwise and says GOB has duties to assist its people. 

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “That’s their right to have that position. I disagree with them. As a government we have a responsibility to this country. We have a responsibility to see where labour and private sector can work hand in hand and then if the government can step in to smoothen that out I think that we have not only a legal but a moral responsibility to be able to do that and when we have these work stoppages they’re the first one to shout out and to scream that their members are being affected. Now that the government is stepping in to find a way how we could settle this for the long haul not just for this week or next month or one year but for the long haul I think that the chairman should commend us that we have decided to step in because it is of such national importance.”

Reporter: I recall also during those tense moments last week there were reports and rumors that there were threats of legal action against the stevedores for what was happening at the pier head, that was also discussed today.

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “We’re moving on with all of that and as Madam President said earlier we’re moving on, we’re turning a new leaf, we’re turning a new page. We want to be able to start off these new negotiations of the CBA with a new page and that we are going to have better working relationship between the stevedores/Christian Workers Union and the Port of Belize board of management and the government.” 

The CWU noted that other issues affecting its members will be hopefully resolved in its CBA as they look forward to a better working relationship with the PBL’s management.

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