BELIZE CITY, Wed. July 7, 2021– Yesterday, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) held a press conference in an effort to induce more open dialogue with the management of the Port of Belize Limited (PBL). The president of the CWU, Evan “Mose” Hyde, stated at the conference that they have made multiple attempts to discuss pressing issues with the PBL, but none of those attempts prompted any meaningful response from the company.
Currently, there are two matters of major concern that must be sorted out between the CWU and the PBL. The first involves the delay on the part of PBL in signing an updated Collective Bargaining Agreement for unionized staff workers, and the second involves moves by ASR that are reportedly afoot to transfer its sugar export operations to the port of Big Creek.
Hyde says that PBL is reluctant to have any conversation outside of the finalization and signing of its new CBA with the stevedores. The CWU president said that, like the stevedores prior to a bargaining process with PBL that started last year, the staff of PBL has not had a new CBA for almost 20 years. He remarked that the management of the port is doing those members a disservice by refusing to engage in meaningful dialogue about issues that are so critical to the wellbeing of these workers.
”While we were able to achieve a CBA for stevedores last year, we were never able to get a CBA for our staff, which is a sister unit at PBL represented by CWU. That matter went to mediation. It was not resolved by mediation and we’ve been asking PBL management to meet with us to discuss the issues to see what we can do. As you know, that CBA, just as in the case of the stevedores, it’s 18-19 years in, and it’s a serious disservice to our staff,” Hyde stated.
The CWU has gone as far as to engage the Labour Commission to reach out to PBL on their behalf, but those requests for dialogue were also left unanswered, according to Hyde.
And the CWU’s call for a discussion on a new CBA for PBL’s staff is not the only request for conversation made by the unionized workers at the PBL that has fallen on deaf ears. For some time now stevedores have been on edge as a result of rumored plans by ASR to take its sugar ships to the Big Creek Port.
If this happens, about 40% of the stevedores (those involved primarily in the loading/offloading of sugar ships) will lose their jobs, and the next 60% will see a marked cut in their salaries.
But the CWU is questioning whether or not it’s a move that can even take place legally. Following the press conference, they shared a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Toledo Enterprise Limited, the managers of the Big Creek Port, and the Government of Belize in 2006.
That MOU outlines clearly that the Big Creek Port was built originally for banana exports and importation of goods related to that industry. It adds that “if the Big Creek Port is permitted to continue to handle general cargo, it will cause them revenue loss which was not contemplated at the time of purchase of shares”— a direct acknowledgment of the revenue loss that would occur at the Belize City Port if other shipping operations were transferred to Big Creek.
The 2006 MOU states, “The Company undertakes not to provide port facilities and operations at the Big Creek Port for general cargo vessels which are presently utilizing the Belize City Port at Port Loyola.”
It adds that the company would voluntarily restrict its operation to Southern Belize so as to not cause any loss of existing revenue being received by PBL.
The CWU president believes that this MOU, signed by the Directors of the Toledo Enterprises Limited and then Prime Minister Said Musa and Works Minister, Jose Coye, is still legally binding and in effect.
This means that, even if the Big Creek Port desired to take over the operations for offloading
ASR sugar, it couldn’t legally do so.
At this time, the CWU is still hoping to engage with the PBL and has since written the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, in an effort to get these pressing matters addressed.