Features — 01 November 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Union members to decide CWU’s fate

The latest turn of events in the long saga surrounding the Christian Workers Union (CWU) makes it clear that the union’s membership holds the golden key to unlocking a new chapter for the union. As we go to press tonight, there continues to be an impasse over whether the current leadership stays or goes—and that impasse has regrettably led to the expulsion of the CWU from the ranks of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).

It means that the CWU would not have the backing of the NTUCB in the event that muscle is needed to stage industrial action; or in the event that collective bargaining negotiations need an extra push from affiliate unions.

This week, the NTUCB moved to expel the CWU, after an abortive attempt by union members last Saturday to set up a new executive at a General Congress at Bird’s Isle on Saturday, October 26, 2013. There was no quorum to establish a legitimate vote.

Whereas the NTUCB has indicated that the union may also face decertification, Amandala has been advised by an official source that the process of decertification, set out in law (Chapter 304 of the Laws of Belize) is not automatic—and it, in fact, puts the ball squarely back into the court of union members.

Under the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organisations (Registration, Recognition and Status) Act, an application must be made by either the workers represented by the union, or by their employer. That application is submitted to the tripartite body, constituted by members from the unions, the private sector and the Government. Decertification can only occur if a deed poll yields a 51% “yes” vote by members, and the process may take months.

Deon “Pitta” Pitter, one of the stevedores who have been very public about the need for an urgent rebirth of CWU, told Amandala that decertification won’t happen. He adamantly said, “We won’t reach there.”

He did say, though, that they are taking legal counsel on the matter. Forming their own union is an option they have not thrown out the window, Pitter indicated.

The stevedores of the Port of Belize are one of fifteen entities represented by the CWU. The workers of the Central Bank of Belize form another. The Chief Shop Steward for Central Bank workers, Basil Brannon, was nervous about the possible prospect of decertification when we spoke with him on Wednesday.

Brannon said that they have been trying to get an audience with the NTUCB, but “they don’t want to listen to us…”

According to Brannon, the CWU has been asked by the tripartite body to submit a list of members and other information on the CWU. He said that they have also had to formalize registration, as required by law.

Of note, though, is Brannon’s admission that the CWU had not been paying dues to the NTUCB for the past 6 years—not 3 years as members had thought.

The non-payment of dues is one of the reasons which the NTUCB cited two months ago when it opted to indefinitely suspend the CWU. Another was non-participation in NTUCB activities.

A press release issued on Wednesday by the NTUCB said, “The decision to expel the CWU comes on the heels of two instances of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize calling out the CWU to meet its obligation of convening the previously agreed Congress on October 26, 2013.”

It added that the failure of Saturday’s meeting galvanized the decision even more.

Brannon said that it is a decision which the CWU—whose executive had voted to postpone the meeting until February 2014—expected. He said that the expulsion of the CWU does not remove bargaining power from the union.

Responding to the NTUCB decision, president of the CWU, Antonio Gonzalez, told Amandala that, “Like everything else, we have to redouble and reassess, and decide how to proceed.”

Gonzalez said that the union’s executive will have to meet to decide whether they will maintain or change their position. He told us that the NTUCB did not properly hear out the CWU before deciding to expel it.

The statement from the NTUCB notes that the Congress is willing to extend a hand of welcome back to the CWU—but only after it installs a constitutional executive, after which, it says, “…the NTUCB stands ready to re-instate its membership to the Congress.”

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