Port of Belize Standstill: Stevedores Refuse Work Amid Redundancy Payment Dispute

Port of Belize Standstill: Stevedores Refuse Work Amid Redundancy Payment Dispute

Tonight, the Christian Workers Union and the Port of Belize Limited are at odds once again as the stevedores are refusing to work. The parties have been locked in negotiations for weeks over a redundancy payment from the loss of sugar ships at the port. But, last week after those talks broke down, CWU members entered a go-slow and have been refusing to work. The issue is affecting several businesses, but the union says it is not on strike and cannot control what members do on their own. CWU President Leonora Flowers explained that the union feels as if their backs are against the wall and has not heard from the government since the seafront workers rejected their counterproposal. 

Leonora Flowers, President, Christian Workers Union: “Having a bunch of stevedores frustrated is not a good thing. The waterfront is never on alignment when stevedores are unhappy and this is what is happening right now. Our stevedores are not at all pleased with the status quo as it is at the moment. We know, we recognize the government’s first priority last two weeks was the campaigning, that has finished. The elections have come and gone and it’s almost a week and we are still waiting for a formal and decent response that will put us where our members can begin to feel comfortable once again. They know that when stevedores are on strike we send them a strike notice, we have issued no strike notice so as far as CWU is concerned there is no strike, we’re not on strike. Neither the government nor the interim board believes it’s a strike because no one has formally contacted us. The last we sent our response to the government is that please talk to us about the sugar money, we have heard nothing it’s been complete silence since then. Whatever is happening at the pier head the stevedores will tell you they’re out there, they take the action they feel like taking and the interim board takes it’s action it wants to take as well. There has been no formal response to us that ships have been sent away. Not from the interim board, not from the government, not from anyone. No one told us that ships have been sent away. We know –

Reporter: Stevedores have not told you that ships have been sent away ? 

Leonora Flowers, President, Christian Workers Union: “The stevedores ? No we don’t take that kind of response from the stevedores. The responsibility of the owner of the port, there are ships out there. There are ships out there. People tell us that ships are anchored there.”

The union was initially seeking 4.8 million dollars but was willing to accept a counterproposal of 1.6 million dollars from GOB. However, the CWU believes that certain conditions in the agreement will negatively impact its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Port of Belize Limited. Flowers explained that the PBL wants to change the number of workers in a gang, but the union is not in agreeance. 

Leonora Flowers, President, Christian Workers Union: “As we said at the last press conference the 1.05 that they offered to stevedores is actually their own money. It’s their pension savings that the PBL wants to give back to them so that it appears that they’re actually giving something. You can’t give me something that I already own. That pension savings is what has been saved for them. The only thing the stevedores were getting as sugar money, the offer was 1.6 million that was offered by the government, by the Prime Minister. Recognized where they were heading. We were in a discussion with them. When you’re in a negotiation you negotiate. We both can’t get everything we want at any given time but we cannot bargain away our rights. Reducing the gang was a consideration based on going forward but they wanted to reduce the gang, they wanted to make it overall to all gangs. As I said before there are gangs that have seventeen members in that gang so then how can CWU as a responsible union allow the members to sign away four members out of one gang ? So all gangs will then become thirteen ? If we had gone ahead and accepted that that’s the picture we would have been looking at today. There was a steady creep of what the interim board wanted hence we pulled the plug, pulled it and said no more, stop this is going too far.”

Today, the BPL issued a release stating that last Wednesday, the stevedores working a ship at the PBL pier walked off the job leaving the offloading/loading work incomplete, and on Friday and Saturday, the seafront workers once again refused to work. PBL says that with this situation persisting, two other vessels with goods destined for Belize have diverted to other destinations. PBL has notified the CWU that it considers the actions of walking off the job and the continued refusal to work by the stevedores to be an unlawful strike in the context of the CBA and the Settlement of Disputes in Essential Services Act. PBL notes that it is extremely concerned about these unlawful measures that have such a severe negative impact on businesses and consumers in Belize.

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