Photo: Ted Peralta, PBL CEO
Stevedores accuse Ashcroft’s Port of Belize (PBL) of illegal lockout – flow of goods at standstill
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 4, 2023
The handling of goods at Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) in Belize City came to a halt on Wednesday, May 3, upon the arrival of MV Aries at the pier head. That’s the vessel that BEC uses to bring and take away containers from Belize. It’s what the stevedores call the general cargo “money ship.” The Christian Workers Union (CWU) which negotiates on behalf of stevedores is accusing the company of an illegal lockout of stevedores who are being deprived of an estimated $1,800 in earnings each. This is separate from the impact to the country of an interrupted flow of goods.
The deterioration in the relationship is due to the accusation of the Union that PBL management has refused to comply with the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal’s Order of March 30, 2022, for the parties to negotiate a settlement for the payment under a Redundancy Package (agreed between the parties on March 6, 2020) due to sugar having gone south to the Big Creek Port. In reaction to the lack of negotiations, stevedores unanimously voted to do away with a two-gang rotation pilot per vessel (as agreed directly with the shipping agent) and returned instead to the one-gang one-ship operation outlined in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed on August 2, 2020. This meant that one container gang would work 15 hours, take a 9-hour break and return to complete the vessel. The decision was communicated to PBL on Tuesday, April 25.
This week, when work Gang #5 showed up to work the MV Aries, the CWU says they were not allowed entry. On Wednesday, May 3, PBL issued a release accusing the Union of making a unilateral decision to revert to “the inefficient arrangement of one-gang, one-ship” thereby holding “the Port and our country to ransom yet again…”
In an interview today, Thursday, May 4, CWU President Evan “Mose” Hyde rejected PBL’s claim and affirmed that it is PBL that is breaching their contract (the CBA) and the Essential Services Act. He also questioned, “How come we have not had any intervention of any sort from the Ministry of Labour and the Government of Belize?” He recalled when stevedores have been responsible for the shutdown of business at the waterfront, they are bombarded with calls about what they are doing, and noted that in this case, Government officials have been kept abreast of every detail of this latest contention as correspondence has been copied to them. Hyde described it as stevedores being deprived of “any sort of intervention coming from the State that is usually present whenever we have any type of disturbance…it’s as if though the referee has left the game. It’s as if though, ok, ‘you all are on your own.’” He appealed to the Ministry of Labour to intervene before the day’s end since they are the ones who are duty bound to do so. Additionally, Hyde says they met with Ministry of Labour officials and articulated the potential for a dispute beforehand. Hyde also questioned why the Ministry of Labour has not ensured that PBL abides by the ruling of the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal.
Late this afternoon, Minister of Labour, Hon. Oscar Requena told Amandala, ”As we speak, our technical persons are in communications with both sides…We are engaged in our role.” Tonight, when we asked for an update, he told us, “The Ministry does not simply intervene in a dispute among parties. There is a process established in their CBA and in law [as to] how and when the Ministry becomes involved. Nonetheless, we are aware and we are in communication with the parties.”
Ted Peralta, PBL’s CEO, in an interview this afternoon, said the Union met with the Minister of Labour in the last four weeks and they [PBL] are set to meet the Minister on Monday, May 8. He does not accept that they have locked out stevedores illegally. He affirmed that the union reneged on the two-gang agreement they had, and it is a case of the gangs not showing up when called. He declared they are looking at options as to how they proceed regarding the MV Aries. He expressed hope that PBL and CWU could still collaborate to have two gangs work the ship.
This evening, CWU communicated a proposal to PBL. Subject to the agreement of Stevedore Members, the CWU has offered to make the two-gang arrangement permanent subject to three conditions. These are that, “First, the CWU and PBL will amend their Collective Bargaining Agreement section dealing with “Hours of Work” to reflect the two-gang system. Second, you are to honor your agreement made last night to permit Container Gang 5 to offload the vessel, MV Aries. (The two-gang system will then restart immediately for the next scheduled vessel using Container Gangs 6 and 7. This preserves the rotation and ensures that all stevedores are given equal work). Third, the CWU is requiring that you commit to a specific payment date, not to exceed one month, by which time the compensation awarded by the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal would have been agreed to and paid to Stevedores.” The Union notified PBL that it is prepared to discuss those issues, but asked that Gang #5 be allowed to offload the MV Aries and then the two-gang rotation would follow with the next scheduled vessel.
Notably, Hyde today revealed that they were approached by PBL to sign an agreement that stevedores supported the increase in the tariffs PBL charges to move containers. In return, they would do away with the ongoing litigation against CWU and some stevedores. Hyde declared, “We noh got nothing eena dat, you know. But we were to sign off on it, because the way it would have been wrapped was that ‘we are doing this so that we could take the pressure off CWU and poor stevedores,’ so we have to give PBL—we said noh. Ker wi da court. We noh di sign no ménage à trois which will result in no tariff going up on the people of Belize and then have them blame us. So, if you really want to go to the bottom of who cares about what’s the cost, we have paper work, because they sent it to us.”