PM Briceno to Meet with CWU Amidst Rising Tensions

PM Briceno to Meet with CWU Amidst Rising Tensions

The Christian Workers Union (CWU) and Prime Minister John Briceno are expected to meet on Monday in hopes of finalizing an agreement for a bulk sugar redundancy package. The parties have been negotiating for weeks and almost reached a 1.6-million-dollar compromise but talks broke down because the CWU disagreed with certain conditions. On Wednesday, the situation came to a head after seafront workers refused to work at the Port of Belize for almost three days. Police were called in by the port’s management in anticipation of industrial action, and tensions rose. The union was disgruntled with not being able to get an audience with the Prime Minister and stood its ground, refusing to work until an agreement was reached. It was not until the CWU’s President met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Cordel Hyde, that the union agreed to go back to work in good faith. However, the CWU says that if the two are unable to strike a deal on Monday, they will revert to not working the container ships. Today, the Prime Minister weighed in on the situation and the need for the union to understand the government’s position. 

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize:“I’ve had several meetings with the stevedores and every time we meet we come with an agreement but it seems that when they leave the meeting they come up with other issues. I said to them from the beginning let’s not talk about sugar or the sugar money. I said you have your position, we have our position that there is no claim for no kind of redundancy, nobody got fired so there’s no sugar mone. But as a government we’re prepared to be able to address many of the pending issues between the stevedores and the Port of Belize so that we can modernize the port. The way the port has been running for the past fifteen / twenty years is not in the interest of the port nor the interest of the country and I’ve been explaining to the stevedores now we have competition there’s more than one port so when you decide that you don’t want to discharge a ship the ship would either go back to their home country or quite likely the United States or they go down to discharge their containers. That’s what happened with sugar. So when they behaved the way they do, they decide to not to offload they’re shooting themselves in the foot. We need to be able to find a common ground where we both stevedores, Port of Belize and the Government of Belize that we want to find how we could move this forward, how we could modernize and at the same time to protect their interest. I understand that and we want to do that, that is why the government made an offer of $1.5 million dollars to say listen let’s stop fighting about everything, let’s come up with the new working practices. Can’t work more than fifteen hours and when you finish working a fifteen hours a new gang finishes if the ship is not finished offloading.”

One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been the number of stevedores comprised in a gang. The CWU says that they are unable to lessen the number of men and believes that the decision will negatively impact its collective bargaining agreement with the port. Prime Minister Briceno says that the request is being made with reason and is in line with increasing the port’s efficiency.  

Hon. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize: “The port wanted to bring it down to twelve, there is fourteen and CWU said they would not accept it. I said okay in the CBA you’ve already signed you’re talking about thirteen okay let’s stay with thirteen so we’ve agreed to that. So most of the things we’ve agreed. There are just small little things now. For instance how many people are going to be working in discharging for instance when we have fertilizers but these are small things that can be worked out. How many members do you need in a gang when there are two cranes working ? This is just coming to my attention and this could be sorted out fairly rapidly. We will meet with them on Monday once again but as I said to them this is not my money, I can’t just give them the money we have to have an agreement. When we have an agreement then we are going to be passing on the money to the Christian Workers Union on their behalf.”

The CWU denied being on strike and stated the decision to bring the loading and unloading of goods at the port to a standstill was made by individual gangs.

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