Headline — 10 October 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Dr. Barnett predicts tribunal if waterfront dispute continues

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 8, 2018– The impasse between the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which represents stevedores, and the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) continues while the clock for the 21-day notice of industrial action that the union has served continues to run.

The Ministry of Labor has been meeting with the two sides in the hope of avoiding a stevedore strike. Dr. Carla Barnett, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Labor, continues to hold discussions with the CWU and the PBL. On Friday morning Dr. Barnett held another round of discussions with the two sides in the government’s continuing effort to resolve the labor dispute. The stevedores have been working without a collective bargaining agreement with the PBL for some time now.

Today’s meeting was held at the Labor Department’s Belize City office, and following the discussion, Dr. Barnett briefed the media on the status of the impasse and what lies ahead.

“There are a few things that they have not negotiated yet, and among them are the matter of remuneration that is still there in the background to be discussed, and the hours of work which has not been resolved, and which is the matter that brought the impasse, and that is the other big thing that is there,” she explained.

She went on to say, “There is an impasse. We brought the two sides together this morning in this same room and I conveyed to them that in fact we conclude that yes, there is an impasse. I had talked them through this over the previous days. The impasse is because one side says that what we currently have in place goes against the law — that’s the Port of Belize; and the other side says no, it’s not against the law, and we don’t want to change.”

“What we have done with regard to that particular issue is, we have brought in the Solicitor General; we have asked him to prepare a legal opinion on the state of the law, what the law says about these things. So he’s preparing a legal opinion that will reflect what the current set of Laws of Belize says.”

“But we also have to take into account, and we have asked him to do this, the international agreements, such as the International Labour Organization agreements that we have acceded to, as well as any other agreement, convention, or treaty that we have acceded to, that may have an impact on this. So he has agreed to do this for us; we should have that early next week Monday or Tuesday, we think,” she said.

 Dr. Barnett added, “We also advised the union to get a legal opinion, because even though they have not taken a position, they didn’t previously get a legal opinion on that position, and they have agreed to do that; they have retained a lawyer that promises to do it for them for early next week as well.

CWU president, Evan “Mose” Hyde, told Amandala today, Monday, that the union is being represented by the law firm of Ellis Arnold and Company.

In addition, the CWU president informed us that his union has made presentation to sister unions, including the Belize National Teachers Union, the Belize Energy Workers Union and the Belize Communications Workers Union, in the effort of seeking their solidarity with the CWU.

 “The Port of Belize has had a legal opinion since 2012 to back up what they have been saying since then about the hours of work. That’s the only matter that’s a matter of impasse; everything else is open for discussion.”

She further explained, “The law under which the union invoked the 21 days to strike action, that law provides a process for the Ministry to determine if there is a matter that cannot be resolved, that cannot be negotiated, that’s now an impasse, then we are required, under that law, to establish a tribunal to determine that matter. So we are preparing to do that just in case that’s what we have to do, because as I said to them this morning, I don’t want us to be the ones that cause any delay in getting that process done, so we are working. We have to identify persons for the tribunal. We have to invite the labour unions to identify somebody; we have to invite the representatives of the private sector to identify somebody for this tribunal. If this goes to the tribunal, then they would already be established, they can consider this matter in the shortest possible time.”

Dr. Barnett said that the law requires that a tribunal be set up before the 21-day notice of industrial action runs out. The meetings with the two sides will continue next Wednesday, and if they have not reached an agreement to resolve the impasse, then a tribunal will be set up before the expiration of the 21-day industrial action notice.

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Deshawn Swasey

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