Thirty-six men and women have joined the unemployment line in the name of Covid-19 and austerity measures. The challenges have been real for many of the men, women, and children who have been forced to adapt to a new way of life. Of the three dozen persons fired from the Port of Belize yesterday, was a security officer, Akira Noralez.
Akira Noralez, Terminated Security Officer: “It affects me totally. There is no job right now available in Belize. Listen they terminate us and then afterwards they gave us a redundancy package. The redundancy package that they gave us we didn’t get a letter, we didn’t get anything to tell us how they paid us and based on my own calculations they still took the ten percent out of the redundancy package right and they said, like I’ve been saying, they said that they would terminate thirty six people because of the pandemic and whatever and we don’t want to take the ten percent reduction. Now if you terminate thirty six because we don’t want to take the reduction and you need to cut down then give the people back their ten percent and then terminate us and then give us our redundancy package with the ten percent included but they did not. They terminated us with the ten percent so then that affects everything because the other day when they took the ten percent even if you go to a lending institution to borrow money you can’t get the money you want because based on what they’re paying you. This is an attack on our livelihood, this attacks the union and this attacks the rest of employees at the port so it’s just messed up.”
Twenty-nine of the thirty-six men and women are members of a union. Some of them were employed as security guards, some as domestic workers, and some of the office personnel. According to Bernard Ramos, he was employed for four years and he can only hope that this entire ordeal will bring about new and pro-active beginnings.
Bernard Ramos, Terminated PBL worker: “I expected to be on the list because we consider this as union busting. It was thirty six of us they said they wanted to terminate and twenty nine from that are union members. If you minus the twenty nine from total we have they’re going to leave with fifty four members left at PBL. They’re trying to break up the union because ever since we have been formed, one year four months, we have been mobilizing and the point is we have been getting stronger and stronger challenging them on everything that we do. The first time I ever heard you are being dismissed or terminated by a text message because what happened is that they called us on Tuesday night after eight about eight thirty they texted us and told us they want to meet us at eight o’clock on Wednesday morning in the rec room. We asked them why and they said the thirty six people that are supposed to be terminated. Right away we informed our union reps and then they told us plain don’t go in any meeting, don’t sign any letter so the point is we were prepared and we haven’t signed any letter saying that we are terminated.”
Ramos was a Chief Union Representative at the Port of Belize. The PBL dismissed the employees while the matter was before the courts. The Attorney General’s office, as we explained earlier, filed for an injunction against the termination but before the judge could render a decision, the PBL acted swiftly. AG Michael Peyrefitte spoke on this matter saying it was a strategic move by the Port of Belize.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “The real question is why would they attempt to fire the people just before you have a hearing. If they believe that they have every legal right to dismiss those employees then just wait for the court to say so, why preempt what the court was going to decide? Obviously what they’re trying to tell the court that it is a done deal, the ship has sailed that’s their attempt by trying to fire the people but hopefully the court will see that that is just an attempt to upend whatever the court would decide. So we filed this from yesterday, we decided on this from early in the week so it’s not like a last minute application we made. We never thought that these people would be so low as to actually do that but when we found out that they were a hundred percent serious about it then we realized we had to represent the Labor Department since the Labor Department being a government department is full fledged a part of the process of trying to mediate between the port and the stevedores. That is an essential service to the country so any dealing with those workers or that company or that situation has to be carefully looked at by the government and has to be looked at as something other than just a regular private company hiring private employees. So it’s not that we acted too late it’s that we realized then at that point that they were seriously going to attempt to do this when all along they claim that they were trying to go through the process to come to some sort of amicable settlement.'”
The decision from Justice Sonya Young on the injunction to terminate these employees is slated to be delivered tomorrow.