BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 8, 2021– On Monday, the Christian Workers Union (CWU) released a statement informing the public that the arbitration process being carried out by the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal to address the compensation claims of the stevedores of the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) has reached an impasse — not because the CWU is in opposition to the tribunal, but because the union is still awaiting a reentry by the Ministry of Labour into these negotiations that are so “sensitive” and that will impact the future of the stevedores and all who depend on them. This is what the Ministry of Labour had agreed to do — be a mediator and facilitator in that delicate process, said Evan “Mose” Hyde, president of the CWU, who cited a commitment made by the Labor Ministry on July 21 to perform such a role. According to Hyde, the union based its decisions on that commitment, prior to the sudden withdrawal of the Ministry of Labor from the process, and he told local media that the union is now calling on the Ministry of Labor to be “responsible” and “comply with its commitment”.
The CWU release states that the Minister of Labour, in a letter dated August 24, declined to participate in mediating the negotiation between the PBL and the Union over such critical matters as the sought-for compensation of those waterfront workers who either lost their jobs or lost a chunk of their earnings due to ASR/BSI’s transfer of sugar loading operations from PBL to Big Creek.
In response to the refusal of that ministry to carry out the role it had earlier promised to fulfill, the CWU sought the assistance of its sister unions as it made an attempt to get the Ministry of Labour to step back into the process by asking that the National Trade Union Congress of Belize’s (NTUCB) representative on the Essential Services Tribunal recuse himself. The NTUCB’s rep did just that, and this caused the tribunal to lose quorum and brought the negotiations to a halt.
Hyde said, in reference to the puzzling refusal of the Ministry of Labour to be a mediator in the process, that the union has never experienced this sort of backpedaling from the Labor Ministry before, and he said that the manner in which the sudden withdrawal from the process was carried out suggests that some type of “scheming” is taking place. He even addressed the purported reason given by the the Labour Ministry for its decision to not mediate the process — the union’s earlier notice of possible industrial action.
“There was a lot of effort to somehow manipulate positions that we have held and we have essentially laid out that we have passed the 21 days, yet we have not gone to industrial action, we have maintained that we want to negotiate this matter, but we can’t help to believe that the government has no interest and has walked away and we can’t understand why,” he said.
He then went on to state, “But now we are at the end of our line. We are saying, finish what you started on July 21, let’s get back to the table. We cannot accept this letter that was sent to us saying we are not going to be participating. We cannot accept it,” Hyde said.
He added that all the agreements reached in the July 21 meeting were abandoned by the Ministry of Labour. This has simply added to the frustration of the stevedores.
“They have not tried to frustrate stevedores. They have frustrated, they have insulted, they have disrespected, they have abandoned agreements that protect stevedores. I mean the list goes on. Despite all these emotions, somehow stevedores have acted in a way that represents being responsible. They have opted to say, listen, we want this matter to be negotiated out. Of course, we are looking at other options, but our appeal, and stevedores have accommodated that appeal… For us, July 21 means something when we went back to our members and we said, listen, the state says we are going to negotiate and PBL has agreed, on record, that is going to happen, that meant something to our members.” Hyde said.
As mentioned, both the CWU and Port of Belize have agreed to come to the table, with the government of Belize being the middleman in the negotiations. Hyde said that this is the only method of negotiation that has been proven to yield results. And this is a position that is ironically held by both the CWU and PBL.
“Because of what is at stake, we don’t want to set ourselves up to fail. We have never been able to create successful results, PBL and CWU. Even an independent mediator could not make progress on the matter of the staff CBA. Since I have been president of CWU, the only mechanism that has been successful, that has been able to move things forward is a tripartite approach of the employer, the employee representative, and the state,” he said.