There was chaos at the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) this morning following an advisory from the Government indicating that the Attorney General will file a request for an injunction to stall the redundancies at the PBL. The PBL management had backed out of the agreement to let a tribunal vet the financial documents on behalf of the Christian Workers Union and still went ahead and finalized the redundancies of the thirty-six staff members. Unlike the past fourteen days, there is now an all-day strike by the members as they have been terminated via text by the PBL.
Evan Mose Hyde, President, Christian Workers Union: “Over the past thirty six hours thereabout essentially the Port of Belize has indicated to the Ministry of Labor which is the regulatory body for employer employee relationship that they do not agree with Labor’s position on the tribunal, they don’t agree with the Ministry of Labor’s position on the redundancy procedure and they don’t agree with the position that the security service is essential service. Interestingly enough they argued quite the opposite a couple weeks ago so essentially PBL it’s management, ownership, receivership I should say because they’re not the owners are essentially saying that they are bigger than the labor law and they’re bigger than Ministry of Labor and in the way it appears to me the government has decided to put an injunction on their position because of the implications, the overall implications for the labor landscape if PBL is allowed to take the present position that it’s taking. It goes further than that even though the government has indicated that they’re going to court for an injunction what PBL wanted to do this morning was to ambush our members and hand them letters of termination so as to preempt the injunction proceedings and so we came out early this morning to ensure that our members understood we’re not going to sign any document, we’re not going to any meeting, we’re not accepting any letter, we’re not signing any letter, we’re not signing for any letter- we’re not doing any of the above because this matter is going to go in front of the court. And we have to understand what they have done is deny us the right to challenge the reduction of our earnings against the wage protection act or law which our members believe and our lawyers believe is an extremely strong case that we have. You cannot arbitrarily without consent, reducing the earnings of the workers.”
A horrific scene was met at the Port of Belize Limited just after twelve o’clock. What started off as a peaceful sitting escalated into a tear gas and rubber bullets fiasco. There was a violent exchange between staff at the PBL, stevedores, police, and the Gang Suppression Unit. Following that standoff, we spoke to Evan Mose Hyde, the president of CWU, who stated that he is eager to know where the directive came from to remove them from inside the port.
Evan Mose Hyde, President, Christian Workers Union: “Imagine the brutality we will face, imagine and it’s extremely I want to know who gave the order because the Minister of Labor had just called me to say that he had spoken to the Commissioner, the Commissioner spoke to me but there was another order just now.
Reporter: And who gave that one ?
Evan Mose Hyde, President, Christian Workers Union: “I have no idea but that’s what the question should be: who gave the order fu mek people weh di stand up for their rights face them level of brutality? A peaceful sit in they declared that we were being riotous and then said you have two minutes and then just unleashed. In Belize working people ,not criminal people you know ? Not people with any kind of weapon, not people with any kind of stick, just having the courage to stand up. Now we see who has the power in the state. Because the state said we could stay there but the real power in the state said no and the authorities and the enforcement decided that’s the power they would listen to. The people that have the power in the country are the people that own PBL you understand and we continue to play like we’re not understanding that our country has been pimped out before our very eyes because when your enforcement arm, at least based on the evidence that I have, is operating on their own space brutalize a bunch of people that are sitting down for their rights.
The CWU has gained support from several Unions such as the BNTU and NTUCB. President of the BNTU, Elena Smith, was also present during the standoff and expressed anger on the response of the police.
Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “What happened today was not necessary. These persons were out here, were all being very peaceful and I don’t understand why is it that we ended up at this point and these officers were behaving as if though –”
Reporter: They were being attacked.
Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “And some of them were the ones who were throwing things around. They were throwing things but then they attack the people here and in they were just attacking anybody who was in the way they just attacked, they didn’t care who it was whether you were doing or not. As a matter of fact one of them came to me and I made him know clearly don’t speak to me that way and you have some respect when you’re talking to me, you don’t come to me like that. We have every right to fight for what we deserve and there is no reason why they should have behaved the way they behaved today absolutely none at all. And so you see where you heard about the injunction being filed, I saw a press release where the United Democratic Party supports the CWU and their right for their rights so if that is all so what happened ? The AG was going to file an injunction isn’t he the Minister in charge of these people ?”
A stevedore was also arrested this morning for obstruction of justice during the standoff. Edward Saldano was allegedly standing by a bus that was used as a form of blockade for the entry into Port but was later released. Another stevedore was shot to the head with a rubber bullet and had sought medical attention thereafter.