Features — 06 December 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Former BWS workers say they are ready for legal tussle

The case of ex-Belize Water Services workers who were fired in February on the claim that they were made redundant in the restructuring of the Government-owned utility will proceed to hearing, after the company made it clear in the courtroom of Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel last Friday that they would not venture into a settlement with the former workers.

The ex-workers—who include former executives of the Belize Water Services Workers Union (BWSWU)—say that they will not back down from their persistent claim that they deserve compensation for wrongful termination, and they told us today that they are in it for the long haul, even if that means that the matter will need to go before the Caribbean Court of Justice for a final decision.

Earlier this year, Mayan King, a banana enterprise in Belize, had to pay 6 of its former workers one month’s wages plus the sum of $15,000 after the company fired them in the midst of a move to get banana workers unionized. That effort, evidently, fell flat on the ground, after what union activists called union busting.

The circumstances surrounding the firing of the BWS workers, most of whom are being represented by Antoinette Moore, SC – the same attorney who represented the banana workers – is different, though; because they contend that it was their very same union colleagues who endorsed the BWS’s management decision to get rid of them without following the provisions of their collective bargaining agreement.

Don Gillett, former vice president of the BWSWU, was declared redundant, after an internal investigation into what has been described as a laundry sheet of deeds, including affairs, which company employees, including ranking persons, were accused of having engaged in.

The company also terminated the general secretary of the union: Charlette Barnett, allegedly on the grounds of redundancy.

Other persons discharged were Michael Novelo, Colin Morrison, and Journett McKoy – who told Amandala that he is still unemployed 10 months later, after being released from a company he has served for more than two decades.

The former BWS workers say that despite the BWS’s resistance to conclude a settlement for compensation, they are prepared to fight for as long as it takes to vindicate their rights.

They have called out their union and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, saying that neither entity has stood up with them.

The union issued a statement last Monday accusing the former workers of being on campaign to defame its former president, Lorelei Westby, who is now the 1st vice president—who Gillett said was a part of the BWS’s investigation team into what had been termed a slander sheet.

Gillett said that the press release, which accused them of “malicious actions” against Westby and the BWSWU, was not issued after consultation with members, but represents the position of the union executive. Nowhere in the release, he said, did the statement make reference to where the union’s membership stands on the issue of the terminations.

We understand that although the NTUCB has not yet put out a statement on the matter, that at least one ranking member in the Congress believes that the BWSWU could have handled the matter of the terminations differently.

This notwithstanding, the ex-workers have written Labour authorities, even as they await a date for them to return to court for a hearing on their terminations.

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