The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) has come forward in full support of the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and their plight with the Port of Belize Limited (PBL). After almost four weeks of protesting every lunch hour during the week, the mother of all unions has stepped in not only to express their full support for the thirty-six employees who stand to lose their jobs but to also call out the Labour Department for their silence and the PBL for their lack of communication. NTUCB’s President Marvin Mora appeared on The Morning Show today to speak on the matter.
Marvin Mora, President, National Trade Union Congress of Belize: “First of all the Port of Belize Limited is a lifeline for our city economically and in many other ways so it is important that National Trade Union Congress of Belize speak about the issue and take some action in relation to the ongoing situation developing at Port of Belize Limited between them and the trade union. So for us that’s where it stands. I know that there are details for example there is some foot dragging happening from the Labor Department in relation to many violations of the laws of Belize. Probably the Labor Department has lost their way as to the reason why they’re there so let us correct that for the record. Our history is a history of trade unionism, the entire history of Belie started with trade unionism from Antonio Soberanis, am I wrong ? In fact our independence was a result of trade unionism happening from the onset. Our nationalism in fact is because of people like Antonio Soberanis and others that came after him. So for us at the NTUCB there is not supposed to be a question as to why was the Labor Department formed. The Labor Department was formed to balance the equation because there was too many employers who had too much power and they exercised that power in an unfair manner towards the workers, that was the history of Belize in fact that is still happening today. Whenever you have an employer that has all the might to send you home as they want to do with thirty six employees at PBL which includes twenty nine members that has four members of their trade union elected official officers. Now how does that speak about union busting? How does that speak about fairness and where is the Labor Department on all of these issues? The Labor Department should not be playing the role of mediator because the Labor Department also has the role of the enforcer of the laws of Belize as it relates to Labor Laws and as it relates to unfairness when an employee is being treated unfairly. Yes there are times when employees do go above and beyond their rights and they break the law as well and that’s why you have a Labor Department to address that issue as well. So they cannot just be a mediator and play objectively you have to play your roles. You have several roles and functions and like I explained our history is testament as to why the Labor Department exists.”
Wayne Lambey is the PBL Union Staff Representative who has been monitoring the situation. According to Lambey the company has refused to update the Collective Bargaining Agreement which has not been adjusted for sixteen years. The stale CBA has led to PBL looking to release three dozen workers which Lambey says is unjustified even amid the Covid-19 endemic.
We have a CBA, a collective bargaining agreement. That Collective Bargaining Agreement was not renewed since 2002 so that CBA is sixteen years old. And so over the years we had waited, we had attempted, we have tried all the diplomatic means to have a new CBA negotiated and that never did happen. After the port got privatized in 2004/2005 and then further to receivership 2011/2012 to me that’s where the other breakdowns continued. So over the years different management came in and to me I believe they see the union as a hindrance to progress. Slow to reaction as normally is when it comes to Belizeans you know you take, you take, you take and eventually the union reached a stage where it was almost defunct. My initiative and others we decided to reawake the union and after we awoke the union we decided well this is where we are now and so we approached management with different policies and procedures were not forthcoming from them and management again did what they believe they should do as being all powerful they ignored us. And so we decided after we had tried the Labor Department and we had shutdown in March thereabout March 4 and we finally came to the table with Port of Belize, Labor and CWU union and while we sat there COVID came unfortunately and all negotiations had to be stalled. Since that stalling Port seems not to want to be the good person going forward Port seemed to reverse back their tactics and they decided to come all adversarial to us. So we engaged the Labor Department again asking for mediation to be the third party to kind of buffer the two differences that we had. That didn’t went well, Tux Vasquez then resigned handed over reign to a new CEO Pablo Salinas and then he came with a different approach and he came with this real strong handed idea that “We are in control. This is our port.” and so we decided thereafter as employees to have a strike everyday- picketing. So we had a picketing every midday afternoon we had a picketing against our employer telling them what are their faults and what we expected from them but the picketing actually started after they took away our 10%.”
Also speaking on the issue is Past NTUCB President, Floyd Neal. Neal explained that what started us a pay cut has escalated to the termination of employees. He says all the union want is to see the finances of PBL to ensure that the salary cut was truly warranted.
The primary impetus for the picketing right now is the 10% reduction. Port of Belize like everybody in Belize and throughout the world indeed has been impacted by COVID-19 and they have taken certain cost saving measures. When they announced these measures initially the said “We’re taking these measures to avoid having to send anybody home.” it’s right there in the press release they put out. But the 20% for executives, the 15% for mid level managers we don’t represent those people we represent the rest of the staff and their solution for cost savings was a 10% reduction in the earnings of our members. We held a meeting with our members, our members unanimously rejected. They said okay if it is indeed you need to cut our earnings by 10% show us the books, show us the justification. There needs to be joint sacrifice to meet this challenge the whole world is having right now as a result of the pandemic but we have a role to play. This is a union, there is the union involved in this equation representing the workers here. You’re going to do anything that impacts our workers especially when it comes to taking away their earnings there needs to be a conversation before you make that decision and if that conversation it makes sense, it’s a no brainer show me your information and data which leads you to the conclusions. If we’re going to survive this we need to cut and how this is going to impact you. That didn’t happen.
Marvin Mora, President, National Trade Union Congress of Belize: We’re talking about the fact that you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and it’s the same people that have you where you are because nobody, no employer can claim that they reach wherever they are on their own, they owe everything to their employees because the equation is in two halves you have capital on one side and you have labor. If you take out any one of those and that’s the end of the story so there must be reciprocity. If you want me to take a salary cut and I am asking you for full disclosure that should not be a problem. It becomes a problem whenever you have something to hide. If you hide something from me and you’re unfairly asking me to take a pay cut and I ask you for disclosure and you don’t want to show me that’s a clear indication to me that there is something to hide. On top of that each one of these unions have already been through this very same scenarios in fact at BEL we’ve been through this scenario and we have a protocol that whenever there is disclosure of information you must sign a non disclosure agreement and that way you’re bounded by that specific agreement, you understand what is happening and you can explain to your membership and your membership trust that you have seen what is happening, they understand the reality of the figures but if that does not happen how can you go back and do fiduciary responsibility with your trade union members? You know this as a trade unionist you can’t go back and sell your trade union members any story.”
Today marks the start of NTUCB’s involvement in the CWU fight with PBL. Their push for the employees welfare and the expiration of CWU’s 21-day strike notice fastly approaching, the Government could be looking at industrial action in the coming weeks.