Photo: (l-r) Bernard Ramos, former PBL employee; Leonora Flowers, President, CWU; and Dion Barrow, former PBL employee
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 7, 2024
After Security Officer Bernard Ramos was fired via text message from Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) on July 22, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took him 8 months to find another job. He is a retired police officer who says he had certified himself as a security officer and has an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. He had been working at the port since 2016 and was the union rep for the Security Department when he got the shocking news. In the case of Dion Barrow, he was a Security Assistant Supervisor and had been working with the port for 16 years. It took him almost a year to find another job after he was terminated. He says that prior to the termination, he never received any complaints about his performance.
Ramos and Barrow alongside 34 other unionized staff members had been doing lunchtime protests against an arbitrary 10% COVID-related salary reduction. The reason given for the firings was redundancy, but according to the “PBL 35,” the very next day, the company hired other employees to replace them. The staff members believe they were unjustly terminated due to their activism. That’s because a handful of staff members had been growing the staff union and had successfully recruited about 150 of about 200 staff members when COVID hit.
This week, former PBL Chief Staff Representative, Wayne Lambey, who was not terminated, joined members from the group of 35 to do media rounds to emphasize the need for a resolution to the longstanding issue. He shared that among the terminated staff were members of the union’s negotiating team working toward the signing of a Collective Bargaining Agreement with PBL. According to Lambey, he saw that the terminations dealt a blow to the morale and confidence of the union staff. He shared, “Because of that, the Union got weak and people did not want to agitate anymore for their benefits, and their purpose why they were there. It got so bad that the 35 names were posted on the gate and on the office of PBL.” As a result, Lambey says they were considered troublemakers and found it difficult to be hired elsewhere.
Even though the matter is before the Labour Complaints Tribunal which was reconstituted in September last year, Lambey is calling for the Government and the Tribunal to find a resolution to the issue now that the Government has bought over the Belize City port. Lambey says the group is asking for reinstatement or compensation. Lambey affirms that they deserve compensation for the “loss of employment and the pain we suffered, the shame that we went through. We had some women who had children going to school, graduation. Then you have the cleaning staff who were terminated and then we said, ‘why would you pick on the cleaners?’ So, it really hurts to see that. And the cleaners are all single mothers … And I believe those who were most vigilant, who were most involved in the union at the time, those are the ones who were terminated. So, it’s like take off the head, and the union will fall apart.”
Leonora Flowers, President of the Christian Workers Union, told Amandala that they forwarded all their submissions on the case to the Labour Complaints Tribunal. The last they heard back is that the Tribunal met on October 20, 2023, but they have not received any word about a resolution.
Originally, 36 staff members had been terminated, including a pregnant employee. However, she was rehired not long after.