Tensions between PBL and Stevedores Cooled Down

Tensions between PBL and Stevedores Cooled Down

Tensions were high today at the Port of Belize Limited as the Christian Workers Union and the port’s management bucked heads. Since last week, the union has been trying to strike a deal with the government on a bulk sugar residency package. And today, after not hearing back from GOB and not getting an audience with the Prime Minister, the union members moved to stop the operations at the port. Police officers were called in anticipation of industrial action, keeping the men from entering the compound. Fortunately, one Belize City politician intervened and cooled things down. Reporter Vejea Alvarez tells us more.

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: After almost a week of being in a state of limbo tonight the Port of Belize is back in full operations, well for now that is. Since Wednesday the port was at a standstill because the stevedores refused to load and offload ships arriving at the seafront. The Christian Workers Union and the Government could not settle on a bulk sugar redundancy package last week and today the workers moved to bring the port to a standstill. In anticipation of industrial action the PBL management brought in cops and the men argued with the police for several minutes and were not allowed entry into the port. It was not until the Union’s chief rep reached out to the Deputy Prime Minister that the union was able to meet with the port’s management. However CWU President, Leonora Flowers, exited the meeting with not so good news. 

Leonora Flowers, CWU President: “They were trying to convince, probably coerce the member of the gang, the current gang that should be out at the pier head to work the ship in good faith. Coming from them they should know that the good faith ran out a long time ago. The good faith ran out a long time ago, this is for action now.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: And while the union says they were willing to compromise with the management PBL CEO Arturo Vasquez said during this morning’s meeting the Union’s president squashed the chief rep Marlon Middleton’s offer for the union to work in good faith.

Arturo Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize Limited: “The CWU came to us today, Mr.Middleton in particular came and he asked us that he wants to work in good faith today, he told us that we didn’t ask for it. He said we will work in good faith and in return he has agreed with the Prime Minister that he will meet on Monday with him. I was not aware of that so I actually called the Prime Minister on the phone and one that telephone call Mr.Middleton and the Prime Minister agreed that we will work today in good faith and in return he will meet with them on Monday. That’s where we were. We were prepared to come back to work, walks in the president and she says that that was never the agreement and that’s where everything fell apart here.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: And even after meeting with the PBL’s management the stevedores were hell bent on not going back to work. The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, even made a quick stop to ensure that cooler heads prevail between the cops and the CWU despite the frustration among members that Middleton spoke about.

Marlon Middleton, WU Chief Rep :“We feel like we’re being pushed around. From last week they knew that these ships were out here. From last week. This ship right now supposedly has medicine and stuff in container, money, whatever comes on the ship you understand ? We need an answer today and we’re not moving until we get an answer or face up with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: Frustration was not only setting in for the CWU but for the port as well. Vasquez says that the days of trouble at the port have led to significant backlogs and spoke about the alternatives that were on the horizon. 

Arturo Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize Limited: “We have almost three hundred export cargo needs to go out. Everything is at a shut down so we have to find a way to do this. So moving forward we will have to see what other workforce we can find to get this port going. If no cargo is going out or coming in you can imagine the effect it has on the business community and the public and the prices and all of that. So it is important for us to do it and I think you’re looking at from Friday until today nothing has happened so clearly we have to make a decision.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: The union members remained in front of the compound and only moved after they were called to a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde. The senior politician was able to convince the union to go back to work in good faith until they could meet with Prime Minister on Monday. Flowers had stated that Monday was too far away and felt it was GOB pushing the union around which was her position before meeting with Hyde.

Leonora Flowers, CWU President: “At the moment we have a promise to meet on Monday from the Prime Minister, I would say from the government. To the government that is not good enough. That is not good enough. Yesterday was monday to tell us that they will meet with us on Monday the Prime Minister has absolutely no time it’s not good enough. Our members have taken a stand and we continue to do so.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love NEWS: The stevedores were scheduled to return to work at six o’clock this evening an are hoping to meet with Prime Minister John Briceno bright and early on Monday morning.”

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