Highlights — 20 August 2013 — by Adele Ramos

The CWU prez and his general secretary will stay on for a few more months

The schism between stevedores and the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which represents them at the bargaining table, cooled several degrees today after an extensive meeting that lasted most of the afternoon in which, CWU president Antonio “Toncho” Gonzalez said, the parties “trashed out one another,” but were evidently able to come to an acceptable compromise.

Last week, the stevedores called for the resignation of Gonzalez and CWU General Secretary James McFoy by Friday, August 16; however, coming out of today’s meeting, mediated by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), the parties agreed that Gonzalez and McFoy would stay on two more months, until October – by which time an audit should be completed and the election of a new executive should be convened.

“We will clean up house now…” said Deon Pitter, aka “Ras Pitta,” one of the 150 stevedores registered with the CWU.

Pitter said he does not consider today a victory, per se, but he is grateful that the CWU is able to write a new chapter going forward.

“New era, new blood, new everything…” he chanted.

Pitter said that calm has now come to the process, and finally, union leaders are paying attention to their plight.

Pitter and Gonzalez shook hands in front of the Labour Department in Belize City, after their meeting concluded this evening.

There, Gonzalez affirmed: “As I mentioned in my earlier statement, I will not be seeking any reelection. I know the stevedores are strong, and the stevedores have shown that they are interested in their union. And by going this route, I think that the CWU will be standing firm and steadfast in protecting their workers and employees.”

Gonzalez does not concede that he has been pressured to resign. In fact, he told the press that he is resigning due to illness – his and his wife’s.

“I had a health problem from earlier. Just to mention that that’s a personal thing. My wife is suffering from [a] terminal illness right now, so that is added to my illness. So I wish that I could ask for your prayers. That in itself is the reason,” Gonzalez said.

Of note is that the parties have agreed to retain the services of a certified public accountant (CPA) to complete an audit by Monday, October 21, 2013. That audit report is to be presented at a convention slated for Saturday, October 26.

Last week, the NTUCB announced that it had decided to indefinitely suspend the CWU, because it has not been paying fees and it has not been playing its role as an affiliate union. Today, Gonzalez expressed the hope that the suspension will soon be lifted.

“I think that based on what we did today, within the CWU, I believe that that suspension will be lifted and we will resume membership with the NTUCB,” Gonzalez told us.

General Secretary James McFoy told the press that following accusations and concerns that stevedores had expressed over the media, today’s meeting was convened. Not all were in agreement with the stevedores’ calls for their immediate resignation, said McFoy.

“They want it to happen like tomorrow. It cannot happen tomorrow, so we have to go through the process and so we have to agree to a date,” said McFoy.

Both Gonzalez and McFoy will stay at least until October 26, 2013, when the convention is due to be held.

“We concede that some of the things that they were concerned about were indeed genuine and… we are saying, yes we acknowledge; we agree, but we are prepared to rectify, correct. This meeting was to put that forward…” McFoy told the press.

The Belize City Council, Port of Belize, and affiliate unions were also a part of today’s meeting, a participant told us.

Basil Brannon of the Central Bank of Belize, the Chief Shop Steward who acts as liaison with the CWU, confirmed that the CWU has no treasurer, and for the past 10 years, there have been no elections.

As for the records, said Brannon: “It’s in a mess, so we need to straighten all that out…”

“Without records there is nothing much we can do,” he added.

“I believe we can get better leadership from other people, but we have to see what the general membership decides. It is something that the general membership has to decide,” said Kera Broaster, employee of the Social Security Board, represented by the CWU.

Broaster said that she decided to attend the meeting to get an understanding of what has been transpiring.

“We’ve all been sitting in our offices and not been wanting to deal with this issue. So I applaud these guys [the stevedores] for coming out and making the public aware of what’s happening and I stand by what they are doing and I have to support them, and I hope that we can make some headway,” Broaster said.

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