Highlights — 15 September 2015 — by Albert J. Ciego
CWU and Port of Belize reach compromise

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept. 11, 2015–Strike action by disgruntled members of the Christian Workers Union who work at the Port of Belize Limited compound in Belize City, which was scheduled to be carried out on Wednesday, September 9 – the eve of the September 10 celebrations – was averted. The workers had not been paid by the company for the work they carried out, unloading ships, during their shifts on Monday and Tuesday. They felt that their concerns were not being addressed by the Port of Belize Ltd., and to show their displeasure, they began a go-slow action to pressure the company to go to the bargaining table.

   The company, in response to the go-slow action, had, instead of attempting to negotiate with the workers, as they had hoped, threatened to suspend operations at the Port, and the workers, in response, scheduled a strike to be carried out at about 8:00 Wednesday morning at the Port. Fortunately, however, the Christian Workers Union president, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, and her negotiating team had a sit-down with Tux Vasquez, the Port’s Managing Director, and other managers of the company and an amicable solution was reached.

   President Shepherd reported that as a result of the agreements, the workers would be paid in full on that same Wednesday for the job performed, and the workers in turn would end the go-slow action and return to a full workload at 2:00 that Wednesday afternoon. Additionally, the company and the union agreed to begin negotiation on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The talks are to begin on Friday, September 18, and the negotiations are scheduled to last for about 2 weeks, after which it is hoped that a new agreement that satisfies the demands of both parties will have been reached.

   Shepherd said that she had a challenge to get the Port negotiators to go to the bargaining table to negotiate. The CWU, she said, had wanted to clearly define the benefits of the CWU stevedores, but despite the numerous requests and letters the union had written to the company in an effort to get them to the negotiating table, they had been ignored. Shepherd said that the union had made a proposal, and presented the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the company had not counter-proposed.

   Tux Vasquez, Managing Director of the Port, said, that they will meet with the union on Friday September 18, to begin the negotiations, but they, the company have a very different take on the situation. The company has already implemented provisions to deliver benefits to the union workers through a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the union, he said. They had agreed to award the workers a salary increase, back pay, and insurance, among other financial benefits, for a seven-year period. Also other benefits within the CBA are to be implemented as soon as they (both parties) form an agreement on them.

   Vasquez said, however, that the union wants to start the negotiations from the beginning – a move which he does not agree with, and which he believes will cause unnecessary delays.

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