by Adele Ramos
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 8, 2007
Unless there is some massive intervention over the course of the next 9 days, the contentions behind the walls of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) and the Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) will spill over into the streets of Belize City, and possibly other parts of the country, in a protest march on Saturday, February 17.
President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, Senator Rene Gomez, told Amandala today that the NTUCB has met recently with both the Belize Medical and Dental Union and Association, which represents KHMH medics, and the Belize Communication Workers’ Union, which represents BTL workers, to discuss their labor disputes.
The union is at odds with BTL’s management over the termination of three workers. The union claims the terminations were done contrary to the collective agreement and a memorandum of understanding between union and management.
After a meeting of the NTUCB’s executive on Friday, February 2, the NTUCB asked the BCWU to write the NTUCB clarifying what role it should play in settling their dispute with BTL’s management. The union has also written Dean Boyce, chairman of BTL’s executive committee, informing that the NTUCB wants in on the negotiations.
Paul Perriott, president of the BCWU and first vice president of the NTUCB, told our newspaper today that to date they have not gotten BTL’s management to budge, and so the 21-day strike notice the union issued on Friday remains in effect.
BTL’s management has informed our newspaper that the terminations were in order, but there has not been much elaboration on that stance.
“We will stay on course, stand on the principle that the process was not followed and we will see it through,” said Perriott.
On Monday, the BCWU called on members to institute a go slow and work to rule. What does that mean for BTL and its staff?
“Nobody is going to be doing any after hours work,” said Perriott.
He also informed us that in a meeting of the BCWU’s council members last night, they passed a resolution to join with the doctors and nurses of the KHMH who plan to demonstrate on February 17th.
For their part, the KHMH medical staff is opposing Government’s decision to take full ownership of a private hospital, Universal Health Services, after the hospital failed to meet its debt obligations. They argue that Government could have built up the public sector with the same $30 million worth of resources it now wants to put into a private hospital, or take control of the assets and use them to bolster the public hospitals across Belize, and integrate the UHS staff that it could in the public sector.
The conflict reached a head a few weeks ago when the Belize Medical and Dental Union/Association stepped down from a ministerial task force to review Government’s proposal to integrate UHS in the public health care system.
Now the NTUCB says that the February 17th protest may be bigger than the protests of 2005, because the NTUCB is considering calling out its members from all over the country and organizing parallel demonstrations around the country.
Perriott told us that BTL workers will be asked to join in, after the council passed a resolution agreeing to the union’s participation last night. This is significant because the BCWU is one of the most militant unions in the country.
All the issues will come to the fore in the protest, Gomez told Amandala. Added to the list is the ongoing Commission of Inquiry into the Development Finance Corporation. Gomez said that the Government and the union, which had called for the investigation, had previously agreed on the terms of reference for the forensic auditor, but he is concerned that all the points the union wanted to have addressed in the audit are not being addressed, and the timeframe for the work has been slashed by half, Gomez said.
“The 17th will be one of the turning points, but we have yet to confirm whether it will be national,” said Gomez, adding that the protest will be a tripartite effort organized by TUC, the Nurses Association and the Belize Medical and Dental Union/Association.
If things don’t improve after the protest, said Gomez, the KHMH staff plans to also issue a 21-day strike notice.
President of the Belize Medical and Dental Association, Dr. Martha Habet, said this evening that the BMDA and BMDU are inviting all their trade union colleagues to join in, and they have already gotten word from the Association of Concerned Belizeans that they will be participating in the protest.
The march is scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. from the Memorial Park and it takes the standard route: into North Front Street, Queen St., New Road, Douglas Jones St., over the Belcan Bridge, into Vernon Street, Magazine Rd., Cemetery Road, Orange St., Albert Street, Regent Street, over the Swing Bridge, back into North Front Street and culminating at the Memorial Park at about 11:00 a.m.