Wednesday marked the end of a 3-day protest that some employees of the Belize Electricity Limited had staged after negotiations failed between employees and management. Yesterday Labor Minister, Godwin Hulse reached out to both parties to settle the differences and mediate, meetings were held with both BEL’s management and the union workers.
“First of all let me start by saying both meetings went extremely well. It was amicable and I took the position that we should do this exploratory first before we get into a back and forth negotiation; so, that I could be clear of BEL’s management’s position and subsequently clear up the union’s position and I will tell you categorically that they are not far apart at all. In fact I am very confident that we can reach an agreement at some stage very shortly, I hope, because the issues they have are basically the same. While there is divergence in the understanding, they center around a few things. Indeed BEL has attached to the package, two conditions that the union finds difficult to accept. I am not going to, at this point, give the union’s response or in fact management’s response but our team’s response and by our team I mean the Deputy Labor Commissioner, the CEO and myself with whom they met. We feel that they can find common ground among those two issues and so we feel that those can be resolved. There is also the issue of the increase/ increment which BEL utilizes a formula for their increment which is a little complex but we feel that that also can be worked out and when we do that then I think we would have had common ground on all the issues.”
Hulse spoke on the steps forward in addressing the requests of the union and the current situation of BEL Management.
“I am going to, our ministry is going to get back to BEL’s management and then we’ve given the union, we’ve told them that on Tuesday of next week we will get back to them to see where we are after we put their position to management and see how we can , if we can, resolve some of those issues and we will get back to the union. But what is actually happening is that we are in a stage where we are trying to dialogue and we are facilitating that dialogue, I don’t want to say more than that and we feel that that dialogue with our intervention as Ministry of Labor can conclude with a very very proper and amicable and agreeable agreement at the end of the day.”
As it pertains to the salary increase, which is one of the requests made by the BEL employees, Hulse says he would rather not comment on the possibility of that issue.
“Well we don’t want to talk about increase in salaries yet because in fact BEL’s management have put forward what they call a labor cost increase, a cost of labor increase and the union recognizes that figure. It is just how that figure is split and managed in terms of benefits and actual increase in wages, if any, and that sort of thing but we don’t want to at this stage delve into that too much. Both parties have a figure that they are working on surrounding that concept and that is all I will say for this time.”
As Minister Hulse noted, meetings and discussions will resume right into next week. Meanwhile the BEL employees have committed to not further any protest action.