The Christian Workers Union (CWU) says the government has made a decision that would negatively impact the livelihoods of many stevedores of south side Belize City. Stevedores are up in arms after they learned that ASR/BSI has decided to export its sugar through the Port of Big Creek instead of the Port of Belize Limited. The CWU says that an MOU exists which restricts ASR/BSI taking such decision. Prime Minister John Briceno says the MOU is not enforceable.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “A MOU that was signed in 2006 that is not even enforceable because the Attorney General made a legal review of that and said that that’s not even enforceable. So we can’t enforce something that’s legally you can’t enforce it and secondly we can’t force a private entity to go to where it’s more expensive, it’s as if I am telling you you have to go and buy at this shop that costs a hundred dollars more than where you go buy somewhere else , a hundred percent more than if you go buy at a next shop. We can’t do that to you and so it is for those reasons then there was a general consensus from government that pretty much our hands were tied but secondly that we should allow an arbitration to take place between the Port of Belize and the Christian Workers Union. We know now that the staff from the Port of Belize have signed now I think a contract something that the Christian Workers Union have been crying out for years that was not done and now they’re in a tribunal as we speak with the issue of the stevedores and the Port of Belize. Also let me point out that not all of the sugar is going to go down south. This year I think about 35% of the sugar is going to be loaded here in the Port of Belize and then the rest is going to go down south. The bagged sugar is going to be done in Belize and in Belize City at the Port of Belize and then the sugar that we need a ship to dock is going to be done in the port down south and it is done at Big Creek Port simply because the ship can then come right up to the dock and load as opposed to right now that you have to go in barges and try to load from a barge out in the sea which is dangerous, into a ship.”
PUP Area Representative Gilroy Usher Senior is not happy about the decision. He represents the people of Port Loyola, a constituency where many of the stevedores live. He called in on The Morning Show last week to express his dissatisfaction, saying that the decision had racial undertones. PM Briceno told Love News today that isn’t the case.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “From what I understood, and he called me to correct what you were saying, he was not making it a race issue. What he was saying that as a Kriol community or as a Black or even use the word Afro Belizean that they also need to organize themselves and that’s fine if they want to organize themselves there’s nothing wrong with that. But to tie the port to an issue of racism I mean that’s really a reach way out there out in left field, it makes no sense because it has nothing to do with race, it’s simply an economic decision and it is an economic decision that’s affecting five thousand cane farmers and Belize Sugar Industries.”
Reporter: Not to lament too much on the issue but just for clarification he actually said that he was outvoted in Cabinet on the matter with the issue of Big Creek Port and Port of Belize and that he and Cordel were outvoted because they didn’t agree with the entire movement and what have you. That is as far as he went so it wasn’t only yes he harped on having a black community stand up for each other but he did say a lot more against your administration.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “I smile because we don’t have voting in Cabinet. There’s no votes in Cabinet. Cabinet is by consensus and there was a general consensus. People give their different opinions and different people had different positions but at the end of the day after we have the full discussion then there was a consensus that it was difficult for government to get involved.”
Orange Walk South Area Representative Jose Abelardo Mai also expressed his views when he was on The Morning Show. Mai, who is the Minister of Agriculture, suggested that the stevedores find something else do to. This was taken as an insult by many including the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. However, PM John Briceno, says Mai’s statement was taken out of context.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “I don’t think the Minister of Agriculture meant it in any way offensive of being dismissive but I think what has to happen, a number of things. First of all Port of Belize has to be taken to task. They have done next to zero investments in the facilities, they need to improve their facilities and if they can improve their facilities then the stevedores are going to have more work because then more containers are going to come into Belize and not only to Belize but also to export out of Belize so that’s one way that it can be done. But also at the same time we always have to be innovative as people, we have to continue to learn. For instance the cañeros ,the cane farmers, in many instances what the cane farmers did they ensured that their children go to school, go to sixth form, go to UB so that not all of them can work in the cane fields. Some of them have to go work, many of them come to work in Belize City working in office, they are engineers, they are lawyers, they are officer managers because their parents realized that not everybody can go on the cane fields and the same thing has to apply with the stevedores, that also they have to start to think long term to say that not all of my children will be able to work as a stevedore so let me invest in their education and then we as a government then can help with them and participate and find a way how we can ensure that their children can have a better future than what these present stevedores are having.”