BELIZE CITY. Thurs. July 15, 2021– Today, the management of the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) hosted a late press conference as a response to the public statements of the Christian Workers Union (CWU). Evan “Mose” Hyde, CWU president, has lamented the PBL’s lack of response to the union’s efforts to get it to address issues that could affect the livelihood and well-being of the union’s members in a major way. Hyde had described the decision of the union’s members to engage in a go-slow as a last resort, and as a measure that the union was forced to deploy after PBL ignored all the union’s efforts to engage them in dialogue. In its press conference this evening, however, the PBL called on the stevedores who work on the sugar ships at the port to end the go-slow, which according to the PBL is damaging for all parties.
Some of the pressing matters that, according to Hyde, the PBL has not addressed, despite the union’s repeated requests, include a possible transfer of ASR’s sugar-loading operations to Big Creek, which could cause stevedores to lose either their jobs or a chunk of their wages, and the absence of a new CBA for unionized staff members at PBL. After attempting to use all available channels to prompt the PBL to address these concerns and getting absolutely no response from PBL, the union resorted to the only measure that could bring about some level of engagement after the PBL was silent for weeks, said Hyde.
The fairly new Chief Executive Officer of the PBL, Andrew Lane, on the other hand, claimed at the PBL’s press conference that they have been awaiting input from the CWU since April 21 in regard to three clauses in the secondary substitutes agreement. Lane made the claim that they ceded on five of the eight points in the agreement, but that they have not received the promised feedback and proposals from the CWU.
“Unfortunately, that feedback was never received. We sent repeated messages for the feedback and for additional meetings through the end of April and through May and then May 28 arrived, and on May 28, the Christian Workers Union wrote to the honorable Prime Minister,” Lane said. Whether those messages were indeed delivered to the CWU is unclear.
The letter that was sent by the CWU to the government on May 28, was primarily focused on the impending transfer of ASR’s sugar ships from the port in Belize City to a port in Big Creek. In that letter the CWU referred to an MOU between the government and the Toledo Enterprise Limited and it contended that, due to the presence of such an agreement, any transfer by ASR/BSI of its sugar-loading operations to Big Creek would be illegal.
In reference to that MOU, Lane stated, “Within that MOU there is clear statement and agreement between Toledo Enterprise and the Government of Belize that Toledo Enterprise would not handle any dry cargo which was currently being handled by the Port of Belize.” He even went on to state that PBL is actually in agreement with the CWU that ASR/BSI’s shipping operations should remain at the Belize City Port.
“PBL’s stance is that we fully agree with the CWU that the sugar business should remain in Belize and that is how we expect the government to rule and to honor the commitment that they made in 2006.” CEO Lane said.
Lane remarked that the ball is now in the government’s court to decide whether or not the sugar ships will continue to be manned at the Belize City Port and not Big Creek, as is the desire of BSI/ASR. He noted that next Tuesday the government is set to respond to both the CWU and the PBL on the issues surrounding the MOU signed in 2006 by the Musa administration. And he said that, like the CWU, he hopes that the government decides to honor the 2006 MOU.
He went on to express strong objections, however, to the current go-slow in which stevedores who work on the sugar ships at PBL are now engaged, “PBL does not, however, agree that a go-slow is an appropriate step at this particular stage. We feel that it is a little premature and it can be a little counterproductive with the government about to decide which port will handle the sugar in the future. This should be a time where Port of Belize, the Christian Workers Union, and the stevedores demonstrate that this is the best Port to handle the business,” he said.
He shared that the PBL will adhere to and agree with whatever decision is handed down by the government of Belize after their session in Cabinet.
“We implore the Christian Workers Union to end the go-slow. This is not doing anybody any favor. It’s preventing the stevedores from optimizing their earnings, and it’s not doing anything for the country, for the sugar export business, and not least for the sugar cane farmers that rely on efficient port performance to complement the overall supply chain,” CEO Lane said.
In regard to the CWU’s efforts to finalize a Collective Bargaining Agreement for unionized staff workers, CEO Lane said, “ We are fully committed to working towards a conclusion on the long-overdue staff CBA . This CBA has essentially been overdue for 18 years. We made some good progress last year. We couldn’t reach a final agreement; it went to mediation and that failed.”
The PBL and CWU are set to agree to a timeline to resolve all the various issues at a meeting scheduled to take place next Wednesday.