BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 30, 2015–On Tuesday afternoon, the Belize Energy Workers Union (BEWU) called the media to a briefing at the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) corporate headquarters at Mile 2 ½ on the Philip Goldson Highway, to announce that the union would initiate industrial action against the power company’s management if an agreement was not met for a salary increase for its members.
By afternoon, however, the BEWU sent out a text message advising the media that they had sought the intervention of Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow. The union and government sides met in Belmopan at the Ministry of Labor, where a marathon negotiation session took place until the wee hours of this morning, when Minister of Labor Godwin Hulse brokered a negotiated settlement between the union and the BEL management.
This afternoon, around 3:00 p.m., members of the BEWU met with a management team from BEL at the Labor Department office on Albert Street, where they finally hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement.
The union came out of the tense negotiations not getting everything that they had demanded, but were able to reach a compromise agreement. Marvin Mora, the general secretary of the BEWU, spoke to reporters following the signing of the agreement.
Mora explained the terms that both parties had agreed upon: “The first item we agreed upon was the across-the-board increase. We had requested a two percent, but the Minister, even in mediation, had suggested 1.75 percent yearly for the next four years, which would sum up to around seven percent. The union was flexible from then, and we figured that we couldn’t have continued being inflexible if we wanted a solution, so we did accept the 1.75 percent yearly increase across the board. That’s the first one.
“The second one was that all our increases that are related to appraisal performance results remain as well, and the third one was the increase in terms of the matching on behalf of the company with our pension, so it was taken from six percent maximum up to ten percent.”
Mora was asked specifically if the announced election date played a role in ending the standoff with the BEL management.
“There are so many factors that you can inject into this situation here. One, given the fact that the union was very serious from the beginning, and it is not the executive or the council; we are talking about the members themselves. And two, of course, under certain circumstances, like the fact that the Prime Minister had called early election. Of course, nobody knew that that was going to happen. So it was just a coincidence that at the time that we are closing off on mediation with no results, that this thing resulted this way, and it played in our favor, more than likely,” Mora said.
In regards to the bigger picture, however, Mora, who is also the president of the Belize National Trade Union Congress, was asked whether or not the unions gave the Dean Barrow-led United Democratic Party government a free ride.
“There is dissatisfaction. The problem is that for some reason or the other the leadership at the helm of the trade unions either did not want to get involved, or for some reason or the other, cannot work in a coherent manner to get their act together so that we can go out there and show our displeasure over certain things,” he said.
Mora added, “We are not anti-government. We are not anti-UDP or pro-PUP, or any of these labels, but we should be pro-people and pro-workers, and I would tell you that really and truly, the trade union movement has a lot more improvement to happen, but everything starts at the leadership, and I think the leadership has to take a step back and look at themselves.”
Mora was asked: “Would you say, then, that they have failed the people in this instance, given that you have admitted that there is a lot of disappointment out there that has not been addressed?”
“I would not only say that we, I would include myself in there, we have failed the country, the workers in a lot of respects. We still have the Occupational Health and Safety Bill sitting there and nothing has been said about it. But I would say that you cannot underestimate also what the politicians are able to do, because we might be playing games with soft gloves, and they are playing with the gloves off, bare knuckles,” Mora pointed out.