BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 15, 2021– Today, representatives from the Christian Workers Union (CWU) met with a team from the Ministry of Labor at the Ministry’s office on Albert Street in Belize City, where the union was informed of the dates on which the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) is available to meet with union reps to discuss matters of great concern to the union that are still up in the air. According to the president of the CWU, Evan “Mose” Hyde, a first meeting between the union and PBL, albeit a virtual one, is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, July 21.
On Tuesday of this week, the CWU issued a notice of intended industrial action to the Port of Belize (PBL) as a last-resort hardline tactic to get PBL back around the negotiation table. It is a measure that the CWU president said they would have preferred not to deploy. However, he said, they had to initiate such actions after PBL ignored all their efforts to use diplomacy to engage them.
According to Hyde, the members of the CWU who work on the sugar ships that dock at the port have been on a go-slow since last Thursday. And according to Hyde, they will continue this go-slow action until at least some steps forward are made in addressing the areas of concern that directly impact the union’s members.
“The clock is ticking, because truth be told, we are actually on a go-slow on the sugar barge, and so that is how we have been able to get attention, because we have tried multiple diplomatic channels — writing the different areas; we had a press conference. All that is in an effort to try to have everybody understand, we are stuck and there is a lot of build-up of negative energy. Let’s get around a table,” Hyde said, as he traced the events which led them to initiate the low-level industrial action, despite their earlier attempts to take a diplomatic route.
There are three matters in particular that, according to the CWU, must be addressed as soon as possible: 1) the looming decision by the multinational sugar group ASR: Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) to move the the loading and unloading of its sugar ships from the Port of Belize to Big Creek; 2) absolute inaction on the part of PBL in response to the union’s request for a Collective Bargaining Agreement for unionized staff members at PBL, and 3) the receivership’s failure to confirm the status of new stevedores, according to a recently signed CBA that lays out working conditions for those workers..
During a recent press conference, CWU president Hyde pointed out that the move to Big Creek that ASR:BSI is reportedly planning is likely illegal since such a move would violate a 2006 MOU signed between the Government of Belize and the owners of the Big Creek Port, Toledo Enterprise Limited.
“I am not here to speak about BSI:ASR. They are the ones who, in our view, have intention of violating the terms of the MOU that was signed in 2006, which is about to threaten almost half of the earnings of my members,” Hyde stated, in reference to ASR:BSI’s plans.
Hyde also revealed that recently the CWU has been in contact with another group of stakeholders who would be affected by ASR:BSI’s decision: the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA). While he did not provide details about what was discussed, he highlighted the fact that the two entities looked at the ways in which the move to Big Creek would have an adverse impact on the members of both groups. He noted that while stevedores would suffer a huge reduction of their earnings, and some would also lose their jobs as a result of the move, members of the BSCFA would find themselves having to cover a huge chunk of the transportation costs that ASR:BSI would incur by transferring sugar loading operations to Big Creek.
“We are concerned about the cane farmers. We are concerned about that fact that, in our view, the unfair arrangement that they have to cover 65% of the transportation cost and in that endeavor, we have had a conversation with the representative from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and, as we indicated to them, BSI cannot call us to a table, but they could, and we made ourselves available to them, and they asked us what was going on, basically wanting to know. They expressed to us, the financial impact on them, and we spent a lot of time. And when we finished that conversation, we got from them a sense that our answers had illuminated the issue for them and enlightened them, and they definitely identify with the common ground of dealing with a multinational entity that is not fair, that is not respectful, and that is not just,” he said.
The 2006 MOU signed between the government and the owners of the Big Creek Port was aimed at leveling the playing field for all stakeholders in the industry, and at taking into consideration how decisions affect all persons working in the industry.
In reference to the 2006 MOU, Hyde explained, “In 2006 the MOU that was prepared saw the big picture of trying to ensure that all stakeholders was in a landscape that was fair. They apparently in 2006 had the wisdom that you need to be concerned of not just the multinational, but also the well-being of the people and their economic stability. That is what we call big picture — fair, just, and efficient. Nation-state efficiency, where not just a multinational investor is comfortable, but that everybody is comfortable, not at the expense of 160 hard-working people in a part of the country where there is no other industry. “
Hyde added that the members of the union are growing weary of having to be at odds with their employer constantly and having to engage in industrial action just to get that employer to take note of their plight. He reminded the media that almost exactly one year ago the CWU staged a protest at the PBL after 35 of their members were fired via text while they were in the midst of negotiations sparked by a proposed pay cut.
“Our brothers are sick and tired of having to have to do this. You have to understand that this is as annual as the September celebrations. It’s actually almost a year to the day that we found ourselves in this similar situation in 2020,” Hyde said.
He further stated, “The last thing we want is to be forced into industrial action; the last thing we want is to be in a situation where we have physical confrontation. This is not the desired route, but unfortunately, consistently, this is the only productive route when we are able to get some action on these issues which deeply affect our members.”
Hyde said that until they get some engagement from the government on these issues, the go-slow will continue at the Port of Belize..
“When we get PBL around a table to discuss and negotiate the issues that we have and we get the engagement from the government on the issue of the MOU of 2006, at that point in time, I will ask my members to move off from the go-slow on the sugar barge,” he said.