BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 6, 2018– Delegates from the ten trade unions which make up the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) held their 51st Annual General Meeting in Dangriga last Saturday and Sunday, during which they discussed some of the pressing issues confronting their organization as it moves forward to its 52nd AGM that is scheduled to take place near the end of this year in Corozal, when it will elect its new executive.
The two-day meeting was held on the grounds of Ecumenical High School and the NTUCB was the guest of its member union, the Southern Workers Union. The 51st AGM was held under the theme “NTUCB: Nurturing/Encouraging Strong Leadership for Worker Empowerment and Nation Building.”
In his remarks, published in booklet form, the NTUCB president Floyd Neal, whose election to office was one of the thorny issues facing the organization, remarked: “Let us be real, NTUCB has not been as effective advocating and lobbying for Belizean workers as we could have been. My predecessor was stymied and I will make not a disingenuous claim of more success in advancing the interest of Belizean workers since the start of my own tenure.”
Neal added that all is not gloom and doom, and that after the AGM, “NTUCB will return to a trajectory to re-establish ourselves as a key social partner and stakeholder not to be treated as a mere token or to be trifled with.”
The NTUCB president went on to say that the organization “has some catching up to do. We need to put our house in order.”
Neal also acknowledged the contribution of Kathleen Flowers, who was the NTUCB Education Director and administrator at the secretariat. “We are acutely aware of Sis. Kathleen’s absence because her successor as Education Director has been non-functional, and since her exit, NTUCB has yet to identify and put in place a person to manage our secretariat,” said Neal.
Neal urged the PSU to assist by using “the secondment arrangement with government to find a suitable replacement.”
In reference to the national issue of the Caribbean Court of Justice decision to award the Belize Bank in excess of 90 million dollars as settlement of the UHS matter, Neal said: “Here, I want to cite the pending Caribbean Court of Justice judgment against Belize which requires payment of over ninety million dollars ($90 M) to the Ashcroft alliance, with absolutely nothing to show for it. NTUCB secured a commitment from the Right Honorable Prime Minister to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the Universal Health Service debacle tasked to identify all the players involved, to full disclosure by all on what transpired, to identify needed changes to prevent any such recurrence and to recommend appropriate punishment for any criminal offences which occurred.”
In wrapping up his remarks, Neal said: “It would be remiss of me not to mention that Belize has still not enacted an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) law. Given the expedient cop-out that Business and Labor have been unable to reach consensus on what our OSH law should contain, be assured that NTUCB has joined with the Belize Chamber of Commerce & Industry to arrive at just such a law.”
All of the presidents of member unions updated the NTUCB AGM about their unions’ activities. The highlight, however, of the Christian Workers Union was their Annual General Meeting on February 25, 2017, at the UWI Open Campus, in Belize City.
The CWU report noted: “Keynote speaker at the AGM was noted Belizean writer, Kremandala chairman and Amandala publisher, Mr. Evan X. Hyde. In his address Mr. Hyde outlined the key roles early labor leaders played in the process of Belizean nationalism and self-determination, and the challenges confronting Belize in the foreseeable future due to capitalist greed and corruption, which have resulted in increasing inequality and poverty. He also spoke on the ever-present tensions between white supremacy capitalism and inadequately rewarded workers.”
CWU went on to report to the NTUCB that, “Our engagement with Port of Belize (PBL) on behalf of the stevedores continues to be contentious, with painstaking, minimal progress. CWU has also sought to have PBL come to the table with us on behalf of its staff, who comprises a separate bargaining unit from the stevedores, without much success.”
There was also a report on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) that Belize signed. The report noted that Belize signed the UNCAC in December 2016, following intense pressure. The report also mentioned the anti-corruption training which took place at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels at various schools across the country. That report was made by the NTUCB UNCAC Board member, Hubert Enriquez.
The NTUCB booklet about its AGM, apart from the report from various unions, also contained reports from its members on the Belize Social Security Board Investment Board, Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL). The report also listed the NTUCB proposed budget for 2018.
In an exclusive interview with the NTUCB president Neal, Amandala asked him to share with us the highlights coming out of the AGM.
Neal said that a press release that was sent out summarized the highlights, but noted, “in addition to that, we passed a number of resolutions that pertains to us being fully constitutionally compliant. There was the question of my proper seating as president. A resolution was passed that put that to rest.”
Neal went on to explain that the question of him not being properly seated “called into question the legitimacy of the decisions that he has made” as president. “We passed a resolution ratifying those decisions,” he said.
“We passed a resolution where the non-functional board members and officers of the NTUCB on various statutory boards, … are not reporting or representing us; there was a resolution to speak to that within the next 90 days; we are going to review our various representatives from these boards and the non-functional executive members on the ground of instituting the process in accordance with the constitution, to replacing these people, where that needs to happen,” he said.
Neal said they also looked at current issues which were prompted in part by their keynote address speaker, the Dangriga elder statesman, Dr. Theodore Aranda.
“We need to pay attention to more than just advocating and just lobbying on behalf of our membership, in terms of benefits. We are part of this Belizean community and we need to look beyond our little constituency. If Belize does well, all of us does well. So we need to be a part of that social dialogue and to do that, we have to get our house in order and become more effective,” he said.
Neal said that each of the 10 members was allowed 10 members at the AGM, but at its height, he estimated the attendance to be about 70 delegates.
“This AGM should have been held last November,” Neal explained, “it had to be postponed due to constitutional constraints. We were having a series of problems and it could not meet the constitutional muster, so it had to be postponed.”
Neal went on to explain that “part of the difficulties was the audited financial report and minutes” which they did not have, and without those, they could not hold an AGM.
In response to a question from Amandala about the compliance of the unions in paying their dues to the NTUCB on time, Neal said all entities are in compliance.
Neal added, “Before we left Dangriga, we helped fund a community outreach program in which the SWU is providing seedlings to primary school students in order to expose them to agriculture and food security.”