Headline — 12 December 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 10, 2015–Negotiations between the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the management of Port of Belize Ltd. went on all night last night and continued until late this afternoon, when the parties were able to broker an agreement that more than one hundred stevedores who have been on strike since Monday found acceptable as a condition to return to work at 5:00 p.m. this evening to begin unloading the cargo ship Pagola, which was anchored off English Caye waiting for the stevedores’ industrial action to end before it headed into Belize City harbor with its cargo this afternoon.

On Monday, when the strike began, catching Port of Belize Ltd. management off-guard, a ship that had brought a cargo of turkeys, hams, and construction materials left Belize and headed back to Miami, Florida.

Tensions were high last night at the Port of Belize Limited, Caesar Ridge Road headquarters, as striking stevedores gathered inside the compound for updates on the negotiations between CWU and Port of Belize Limited management.

Last night, the narrative around the port was that the management might bring in assistance in the form of non-union workers to unload the ship that was still anchored out at sea. At the Racoon Street Police Precinct, a police riot squad was on standby, with their riot shields spread out in the precinct yard.

On the grounds of the Port compound, Senior Superintendent of Police, Chester Williams, confirmed to Amandala that the management of the port has the right to hire additional workers to unload the ship, and that the police would uphold the right of the management to bring in workers on its compound.

“We will enforce law and order,” Williams emphasized.

Shortly before midnight last night, following a round of negotiations between the parties, it appeared that the stevedores were ready to return to work; however, they disagreed with the position that the management had put forward.

This afternoon, however, the CWU president, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, emerged from the Port office and announced to the stevedores the latest proposals that they had gotten from management to end the three-day strike.

One of the sticking points between the Port management and the stevedores was the issue of their retirement plan and retroactive pay. Initially, the management had indicated that they would pay the retroactive retirement plan, and then it told the union that it would not, triggering the industrial action by the stevedores.

Both Matura-Shepherd and the stevedores concluded that the Port of Belize CEO, Arturo Vasquez, had lied to the union and the stevedores about the retroactive payment that goes as far back as 2004.

Matura-Shepherd told reporters that the strike was called by the stevedores, and the union backed them up.

Matura-Shepherd was asked if the stevedores had gone soft on their position by returning to work.

Matura-Shepherd admitted, “We learnt a hard lesson. For four days they [management] held out. They wanted us to agree that we should give them advance notice for any strike. The stevedores rejected that.”

“The issue of retroactivity is a live issue. The guys went back to work today on the condition that we would go back and negotiate the issue of the pension, until we reach the conclusion of a pension deal,” Matura-Shepherd explained. “Our next meeting is the 15th and the 22nd December,” she noted.

The CWU president added, “Port wanted to put a condition that we give them notice before we do any industrial action. They would then be able to lock out the stevedores, and replace their labor. That just shows what kind of heart they have, the very reason we have a problem when we negotiate with this entity.”

Matura-Shepherd emphasized that, “We did not sign an agreement and the reason why we did that, is after we put out three, four olive branches, Port wanted to include in there two things that we don’t agree with.”

“For eleven years these stevedores have been undermined and disrespected,” Matura-Shepherd said.

Guy Neal, a foreman who is also the chief negotiator for the stevedores, said that the strike was a great move. “We stand up in unity. This is one of the best unified situations we have. We are together, we are strong and we proceed,” he said.


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