General — 26 September 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
Union pickets over BTL settlement

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept 18, 2015–Five days after Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow announced that he had personally negotiated a settlement with the Ashcroft alliance over government’s nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited, the Belize Communications Workers Union staged a protest of the settlement in the downtown area of Belize City today.

       This afternoon’s protest comes one day after the BCWU (Belize Communication Workers Union), which represents Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) workers, lashed out at the Barrow administration in a fiery press release for the Prime Minister’s unilateral settlement of the BTL issue.

       About 70 BTL workers carrying placards walked in an orderly fashion from the company’s Church and Regent Streets offices through Albert Street, making a circle around Regent Street between Brodies and Battlefield Park, as they picketed the Barrow BTL settlement agreement. The BTL workers, who reportedly have been banging on their desks at the company offices as a sign of their discontent for a few days now, are upset about being left out of the settlement negotiations.

       The BCWU press release, issued late Tuesday evening, castigated Anwar Barrow, Prime Minister Barrow’s son, who is the chairman of the BTL Executive Committee, for not informing the union.  “Despite meeting with members of the Union…on Monday, 14 Sept. 2015, Anwar Barrow,…was not brave enough to tell the union that Daddy was calling a press conference less than two hours later to announce that the government had arrived at a settlement with the Lord himself,” the release stated.

       The Union said that never before have they experienced that level of “gross disrespect.” The release added: “The Union and its members were stunned to learn on Monday…that the hostile relationship between the Ashcroft Group and [the] Barrow Government had changed overnight to one of rapprochement, unbeknownst to the people of Belize, the employees of the company and the Union.”

          “…the Barrow Government was acting from the same script as the Musa Government, but more polished and more secretive actors were starring in the film that has now become known as Deja Vu BTL,” insisted the release.

       The release further stated, “The Musa administration enriched the Ashcroft Group by giving them a 15% return on investment through the Accommodation Agreement. (the) Barrow Administration has done worse by saddling all Belizeans, from the cradle to those on their way to their graves, [by adding] a whopping $162 million plus of Belizean sweat dollars to the national debt….”

       The BCWU’s president, Michael Augustus, told reporters today that his members are protesting a number of issues, among them the lack of respect for the union on the part of the government.

       “A number of concerns …disrespect…having not enough respect for the union, the membership, for employees. There are some health issues, some things that need to be addressed urgently, and there are many others which we will speak about in the future, very near future if they are not resolved in a timely manner … actions needs to be taken,” Augustus said.

       The union president said that more than 70 percent of the staff are “totally behind this.”

       The BTL Board of Directors responded by issuing their own press release, which was signed by the board’s chairman Nestor Vasquez, who was at the head table with Prime Minister Barrow on Monday when he made the announcement of the BTL settlement.

       The BTL release said: “The Board of Directors of Belize Telemedia Limited is disappointed that the…Union made the decision to issue its scathing press release last night…without first seeking to take advantage of the established avenues available for the resolution of issues within the Company.”

       The release said that the union had always had the opportunity to discuss unresolved issues with the BTL Board.

       “Despite the unwarranted attack by the BCWU, the Board remains committed to ensuring that all issues which occur between Management and the Union are properly addressed….” said the release.

       The release ended by saying that the board has extended an invitation today to the executive of the union to meet and engage in meaningful dialogue on the issues.

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