BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 30, 2020– The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted Belize’s Inflow of foreign exchange, and now the business community is concerned about further reductions in the influx of foreign exchange into the country in the wake of the dispute between the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the Port of Belize Limited (PBL).
Since Wednesday, July 22, when 36 employees were terminated at the Port via text, the port’s services have been disrupted — initially due to a shutdown as a result of security concerns after the protesters on the compound were shot with rubber bullet and tear-gassed, and subsequently due to an ongoing strike this week by the stevedores who unload the cargo ships.. As a result, just this week, a vessel carrying cargo for delivery had to leave with its containers fully loaded after being docked for six days, waiting for the re-opening of the port.
The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) has taken note of this and issued a press release on Tuesday, July 28, voicing their concerns about the implications of this for Belize’s already ailing business sector.
This impasse, says the BCCI, will inevitably cause further damage to Belize’s economy and will result in a further decrease in foreign exchange, and place jobs, investments and livelihoods at risk. The BCCI therefore encouraged both parties to “exercise good faith” by convening for a negotiation and allowing due process under the Labour Act or the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)..
That due process under the Labor Act would entail the formation of the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal, which was scheduled to meet last Wednesday, but this did not happen, as a result of the preemptive actions taken by the PBL (termination of the workers by text) and the chaos that then ensued on the Port of Belize compound. The process would involve provisions under the Labor Act which would allow inter alia arbitration proceedings to be headed by the Labour Ministry in their capacity as the primary body established by Belize’s law to deal with labor matters of this caliber, stated the BCCI.
Given that the processes mentioned were set in motion and the right to appeal is available under Belize’s law, the BCCI feels that the Union, the Port and the Ministry of Labour have “sufficient means available to them to ensure amicable outcomes without further exacerbating the already depressed economic conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At the conclusion of its statement, the BCCI “calls on the parties to recommit, in good faith, to employ the existing lawful procedures without further aggravating actions which impact due process, with the goal of settling this dispute for the benefit of all stakeholders, while keeping the economy moving to the best extent possible. The BCCI stands ready to assist in any way it can to make this happen.”
While they have pledged their readiness to help, however, things are still at a stand-still between the CWU and the PBL, as was seen this week when the CWU rejected a proposal for mediation that was extended by the PBL — a decision that CWU president Evan “Mose” Hyde said was made because the PBL was setting terms — such as, the use of an international arbitrator — that appeared to go beyond the process set in place by our local laws and could put at risk the rights of the CWU workers.
Additionally, reports indicate that both parties met on Wednesday at a meeting facilitated by the Ministry of Labour, but no agreement was achieved. Apparently, the Port is willing to resume negotiations over the CBA if the stevedores return to work in the interim, while the CWU holds firm that their members will not work until the CBA is revisited and finalized to ensure the full protection of the workers.