BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 27, 2021– The Christian Workers Union held a press conference on Wednesday, January 27, to shed light on an industrial dispute that is ongoing between the union and the Belize City Council (BCC). The CWU says that the BCC had over 15 months to deliver its counterproposals in response to the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement submitted by the CWU on October 31, 2019, but that, to date, the council has not submitted any counterproposals in response to this CBA, which was to take the place of the agreement that expired in 2018.
The mayor of Belize City, His Worship Bernard Wagner, has said that his council is not in the business of binding future administrations to any agreements, and as such, it has set March 31, 2021, a date well after the scheduled municipal elections, as the deadline for the submission of the council’s counter-proposals.
President of the Christian Workers Union, Evan “Mose” Hyde, says that this position is unacceptable and amounts to outright disrespect to the membership of the CWU. These workers have been clamoring for the counterproposals from the BCC and for an agreement to be reached in regards to the new CBA. As it stands, these workers are still employed under the CBA that was signed by former Mayor Darrell Bradley, which expired in 2018 but remains in effect until the new agreement is signed onto by the parties.
During his remarks, Hyde stated, “For the union to not be in a position where we can respond to our members asking, how are we on the matter of our weekend schedule? How are we on the matter of our CBA? And we have been unable to give them a definitive answer. This is the essence of our dispute; this is what we are asking for; this is what we are demanding. It is fair and it is reasonable: provide us with our counter-proposals.”
Last week, when Mayor Wagner spoke to local media, he explained that a working committee was established to review the CBA and draft counterproposals, but at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council was hit hard by the death of one of their employees, Hubert Pipersburgh, and, as such, shifted gear toward managing the health crisis.
“Since March of last year, we have been managing through both a health and financial crisis daily. We have been unable to do any planning, it has been about ensuring that we can meet our day-to-day operational cost as well as staff salaries,” Mayor Wagner said to Amandala.
Another important priority for Mayor Wagner’s council is to avoid binding any new mayor or council to any agreements that they would decide to sign onto at the eleventh hour. He shared that this is not his council’s way of doing things and that he is committed to not shift from that position. This is why the deadline of March 31 was set, he said: to give a new city council time to review and draft their counterproposals.
“This council committed from the onset not to bind any future council with last-minute contracts and/or agreements, as the previous council and previous central government. We are intent on not doing so.” Mayor Wagner said.
The CWU’s president said that this reasoning was a “mischaracterization” of the facts. Hyde pointed out that at this stage of the CBA, no agreement will be made, since the council has not yet offered counterproposals to start the process of negotiation between the two entities.
“Just imagine how we feel, that any suggestion is made, that we have created this eleventh-hour dilemma. Sir, we have formally, with respect, tried to get around the table to negotiate and get this out of the way. This is not a desired situation; this is what is created by the neglect of just providing a standard response. Provide us with our counterproposals.” Hyde stated.
According to a circular believed to be sent out by the BCC, the CWU is requesting that the Belize City Council come up with an additional BZ$1.5 million annually that would be allotted for increases in salary, allowances, and vacation grants.
And while the Mayor has been unyielding in his position to not bind future councils to agreements or contracts, it must be noted that the submission of counterproposals from the BCC will start the process of negotiating the final agreement and does not amount to a finalized agreement in itself. As such, the members of the CWU, and their president, still believe that the BCC can draft the counterproposals in time, before the coming municipal elections.
In speaking to Amandala, Mayor Wagner reiterated that, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of BCC employee, Hubert Pipersburgh, the council has had to shift all its focus to battling the pandemic and managing its financial impact, and was thus not able to deliver the counterproposals over the past 15 months.
“The fact of the matter is that we have committed to the renegotiating of the CBA, but prefer to defer until the new council and the new mayor is in place. Is something wrong with that? The circumstances of our inability to provide a counterproposal over the past 15 months is as a direct result of the pandemic,” he said.
He added, “Listen, we were well on our way to achieving that, [but] unfortunately could not get it done. Did we not try? The question is, why is this sudden rush? March 31 is 8 weeks away. In the interim the current CBA is in full effect. Members are still being paid, benefits honored, no terminations. Why the rush?”