The PBL and CWU saga continues
Tonight, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and their employer, the Port of Belize Limited (PBL), remained locked in a legal battle over what the PBL says was an unlawful eight-day strike. In February last year, the PBL filed a lawsuit against the CWU’s President, Evan “Mose” Hyde, and five union members for their role in the demonstration. According to PBL, the company lost over a million dollars in revenue. The trial was scheduled to commence today; however, the CWU’s attorney, Darrell Bradley, says that the union members are arguing that they were provided statutory immunity under the Trade Union Act. Section 34 of the act provides protection for both employers and unions from any form of tortious liability during industrial action. Bradley says that the judge heard both arguments this morning and will deliberate whether the immunities will affect the case. Here’s how he explained the importance of the judge’s decision and its impact on the case.
Darrell Bradley, Attorney for the CWU: “If the judge rules against us then we would have to go into the full trial which the judge will hear that at a later day and she will hear evidence and she will go into the legal arguments in terms of what really transpired and then she will go into the factual matrix and make an ultimate determination but it would be our position that this claim is non suited because the various pieces of legislation provides that a trade union and its members are immune from all tortious liability arising out of strike actions and there’s a reason why that exists in the law. There are several pieces of legislation that regulate and govern trade unions and the different pieces of legislation contain different rights and different immunities. So you have a piece of legislation which is an old piece of legislation the Trade Union Act and then you have a modern piece of legislation which came into force in 2000 which updated the law but we are claiming immunities as it relates to the first legislation the Trade Union Act and also in relation to the current piece of legislation. But what we’re saying is that the Trade Union Act was never repealed and the Trade Union Act concerns immunities that regulate all trade unions so that notwithstanding the fact that some of those provisions are obsolete the immunities that are set out in that law still obtains for trade unions and so the judge would have to look at those arguments, the judge would have to say whether or not there was an implied repeal which we’re saying that that would be something that would be very significant to ask a court to do. So that if you have a law that contains a right, notwithstanding the fact that it was an old law, if you have an act that contains an immunity to say that parliament wanted to get rid of that immunity that has to be done by clear language and that’s what we’re saying. That protection is still good law. That act, the Laws of Belize were updated in 2020 and that act still is on the books as a law of Belize and we’re saying that those immunities are still good law.”
The PBL is arguing that under section 16 of the act, trade unions can be held liable as a corporate entity. Bradley says that while that may be the case the members of the union cannot be held liable individually.
Darrell Bradley, Attorney for the CWU: “So we’re saying that when one reads that section of the law its obvious what that’s referring to. That’s referring to the fact that trade unions are corporate entities and when you’re corporate entities it’s making it very very clear that the individual members of the trade union are immune from any prosecution or any kind of civil liability as long as , and they use the word there “it’s done in good faith.” and also that the actions are done in furtherance of the objects of the trade union. So we’re saying that that provision does not negate, does not reject, does not overrule the provisions that are in section 34 of the Trade Unions Act that both of those provisions can work together and notwithstanding the fact that a trade union may act in ways which may be undesirable you’re still governed by immunity and we’re saying that those immunities hold and one of the arguments that I advanced to the court is imagine what would happen, which is what is the situation in this case, so that an employer has the power to stop work, an employer has significant bargaining power, if I can commence civil litigation against a trade union and against members of a trade union including its president and individual trade union officers, stevedores then that would destroy collective bargaining because if we’re negotiating and that negotiations comes to a halt all I have to do is sue you and because I’m the employer in this case the employer are people who have deep pockets and they could hire significant, well qualified, well articulated, strong lawyers who are very ofay* with the law. That would mean that I would not be able to negotiate effectively because I have this additional tool that an employer can use. They can conduct litigation in an oppressive way to stifle legitimate trade negotiations and we’re saying that that’s why the immunities exist.”