Yesterday the House of Representatives debated the Bank Undertaking (First Caribbean International Bank (Barbados) Limited Belize Branch) Vesting Bill, 2015 and today the Senate is doing the same. Most of the Senators touched on the situation revolving around the 60 staff members of the FCIB who also form part of the Christian Workers Union. Interestingly, the Christian Workers Union forms part of the larger National Trade Union Congress of Belize which has made moves to remove Senator Ray Davis while President of the CWU, Audrey Matura Shepherd has publicly declared her opinion that Davis should no longer represent the unions. Despite the opposition that Senator Davis faces within the union, he remains in the Senate and was able to speak on the Bill today.
“We should have no problem with the government facilitating the private sector. They are an important part of the economy and has been well described by my colleagues. We in the working sector look to the private sector for job creation; they are an important element in making sure that we can work. So the responsibility for the Government is clear in working along with the private sector. I’ve heard the notion that delaying the process would assist the position of the workers and that is probably debatable and everybody would have their own opinion of that but in my view, the critical element here is the Prime Minister’s assent to this piece of legislation. To my mind, we have to now hold the Prime Minister accountable to translating his opinion, probably that of my colleagues in the private sector, into palpable support for our workers. We call on him to make sure that in assenting to this Bill, it is only after consultations with the representatives of the workers.”
Lead Opposition Senator, Lisa Shoman weighed in on the Bill.
“Is that government is stepping into their shoes and therefore owes each and every one of these people a fiduciary duty of care. So that means that as member of parliament we are taking that burden onto ourselves to make sure that all the t’s are crossed all the i’s are dotted and that everything is being done exactly as it should be. It concerns me, Mr. President, that since we have taken on this responsibility that no transfer agreement is provided to us as we have seen in the similar and similarly indecently rushed pieces of legislation before us today in respect of BTL and also on the last sitting. In respect of BEL, we were at least provided with the agreements that formed the foundation and I would have wanted and I still want to be provided with the agreement which is cited here in Section 2 in the interpretation section because although anyone may fairly claim that this is a private financial transaction between two banks and although it is true that the government cannot and does not hamper normal commercial transaction, in this case what you have is a major financial institution in Belize purporting to be sold wholly to another financial institution and the Government of Belize is being asked to step in to allow what to pass through and as Senator Lizarraga has pointed out, none of these transactions can be concluded without the necessary assurances and permissions of the Government of Belize.”
Senator for the private sector, Mark Lizarraga shares the private sector views.
“The Prime Minister (must not) sign this law into effect until the end of the year. It appears that he may have, by these actions, issued some assurances that the Government will keep an eye on the ongoing process and they have every interest in protecting the rights of the workers before he signs this into law. This is a specially important, Mr President, because we’re not just talking about some 60 employees, we are talking about 60 families. Mr. President as the employer’s representative of the ILO in Belize to have every expectation that the employees will receive all that is due to them under any existing law or agreement and we continue to urge all the parties involved to continue to dialogue and to seek peaceful neutrally agreed upon and speedy resolution to this matter. We encourage the government and the Minister of Labor and the Ministry of Labor to become involved, if needed or asked to do so. Again, as the employer’s representatives for the ILO in Belize we have been reassured by the employer in this instance that they will continue to be mindful of the need for all concerned and involved in this process and that they will observe at all times the highest levels of professionalism as they work to ensure a seamless and orderly transition of business to Heritage.”
Leader of Government Business, Senator Godwin Hulse, outlined some laws that have provided for the protection of the staff’s livelihood.
“We have met with Mr. Glenn Smith and other relevant parties on this matter. Section 45 (1) That the employer or any employer may terminate the employment of the worker by giving the required notice according to section 37 if the worker becomes redundant under the following positions, and I won’t read all of them but C says “the sale or the disposition of all or part of the business”. and if that happens then section 3 says “prior to terminating the employment of any worker the employer shall inform as early as possible but not later than one month from the date of the existence of any circumstance mentioned in subsection 2 which is the closing down of the business, the recognized trade union; that’s the body they notify or if no trade union exists the worker’s representatives if there is and in any case with the labor commissioner. So the first one is the trade union and they’ve done that and it goes on to say the employer must notify the existence of any of the circumstances mention in subsection two in these case it will be the closing down of the business or selling it. The reason for the contemplated termination the names numbers and categories of the persons likely to be affected, the period of which such terminations are likely to be carried out and more importantly a list of the existing or expected claims of the workers employed by the worker arising from or in context with the employment such as compensation benefits or other payments due. So there is clear provisions in the law, Mr. President and the Prime Minister is cognizant of this and that is why in the Bill it says at the appointed time because he is consultation to ensure that all of this takes place; that is the law written, proposed and passed by this Government so it does take into consideration the issues affecting workers.”
The second Bill that the Senate debated is the Telecommunications Acquisition Settlement Bill 2015.