The stevedores are back to work. They returned to work this evening at five o’clock after hours of negotiating. As we have reported, they held a strike on Monday which resulted in one ship turning back onto its next destination without offloading the merchandised destined for Belize. After hours of negotiations, late this evening, both parties managed to agree on certain conditions. President of the Christian Workers Union, Audrey Matura Shepherd, told us more.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: “We had agreed to come back to work on three points. So the three points were simply that when they come back and work the port has to be willing to go back to the table on the issue of retirement pension until we have the actual deed. We don’t want any trickery anymore we want it in details. The second one was that once they agreed to that the workers would go back to work from this morning and the third one was going back to work did not mean that the workers gave up their right to strike at any time which is a right they have. It was at that point that we were hours away from signing an agreement last night when port as usual brings in some new element and they wanted to agree that if they would strike that the workers have to give them three days notice that they will strike and that is not required, we are not essential services so that is where things broke down and we came back to this point. This morning the position after consulting with the stevedores is that we are still willing to work but we are not prepared to give them any notice, they’ve not given us anything and they have not shown us any good faith. We went through a whole series of discussions again, again the union threw out options of things that we can do to be fair but what was ironic is that we went a step further and said we’d try to compromise a bit and what they came back to us with was that they wanted us to agree that they could lock out our workers and replace them with someone else and we said no. What we proposed to them and we came and consulted with our workers is that the workers could go back to work but on only one condition, that we go back to negotiate the retirement benefit until the end, in between that all normal relations maintain and their rights would remain intact we have not signed anything. We consulted with the workers and they said they are willing to do that so we had to check to see if port was prepared of us to proceed without there being a signed document because what we have come to realize with them is that if you are going to sign a document you have to put in every detail because that is where they caught us the last time where they said that they would work out the details in another document to date that document hasn’t take place and that is why we are where we are today. So we heard from them and they said simply that they would take that and we would go back to work at 5am, we suggested 6am and we committed verbally and we will keep our word that come the 15th we will negotiate the pension deed until we have the final product being that there will be a pension deed or trust deed document so that is where we are.”
The point of contention between both parties is the issue of retroactivity. The stevedores are claiming that they were told that their pensions would be retroactive to 2004 but later were told something completely opposite. Matura-Shepherd explained.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: “Sadly the central issue was that these men have gotten no pension, there is no pension scheme is in place for them since 2004 when this new management took over, when the port was privatized and so what they had agreed to in 2004 in one of the memorandum of understandings is that both parties would try their best endeavor to come up with a pension scheme and deed, that has never happened. Our first attempt was on November 2 but what we came up with was an agreement in principle, we don’t work out the whole deed and so when we were in discussion it was clear cut that it was from 2004 it was retroactive we even discussed how it would affected those who have left and everything and we signed off a very simple agreement that shows our intention and went about negotiating other issues. The second issue that was important to them was the working hours it was during that negotiation that perchance Mr.Vasquez when one of the guys kept inquiring about the people who have left whether they would get their benefits soon they have nothing else to get and we were taken aback, we said that we would address it again and when we addressed it again he said “Well not only do they not have anything to get, the others have nothing to get” meaning nothing to get retroactively only forward and then we said “You know what we agreed on” and he began putting a lot of details which are not in this agreement in principle and then we realized that bad faith is there and everything broke down. So the real central issue was the lack of retroactivity. I’m glad we had a mediator in this one because they saw for themselves that this is how they operate. You come close to something and then they have something new. We decided that, again, with a clean board we will go back from scratch to negotiate retirement and we won’t get off that issue until it is completed totally then we will move to the other issue but we’ve always said that the negotiation with port would have been our longest and most tedious negotiation because it does not happen overnight and sometimes the stevedores don’t understand that this does not happen overnight and when you are dealing with someone who you have to check every detail and there is not trust and good faith you have to put in the extra hours and days. We had sent in our documents since March of this year we actually only started negotiation in about October and we haven’t even moved off the first point because we moved off the point and had to come back to it. “
CEO of the Port of Belize Limited, Arturo TUX Vasquez, is reportedly not in the country but he was on the phone with Francine Waight, the Deputy CEO throughout the negotiations. He was scheduled to come into the country around nine o’clock this morning but we understand that he was briefly detained by the Guatemalan immigration due to the absence of a departure stamp in his passport on his last visit to that country. Vasquez was attending a meeting of chamber and commerce with his Guatemalan counterparts.