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PBL to CWU: support a tariff hike, and we’ll settle lawsuits

HeadlinePBL to CWU: support a tariff hike, and we’ll settle lawsuits

Stevedore Raymond Rivers has revealed that in a settlement meeting with CWU president, Evan “Mose” Hyde, the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) placed before Hyde what many would view as an unsavory proposition: that Hyde give his support, via his signature, to PBL’s request to government for an authorized increase in the container tariff rate, and in exchange PBL would be willing to settle a $1,034,403.00 lawsuit brought by PBL against Hyde and several CWU members—a lawsuit condemned by both the PSU and the BNTU as an effort to punish workers.

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 30, 2022

In early May, the AMANDALA reported that members of the Christian Workers Union who were facing a $1,034,403.00 lawsuit by the Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) and whose ex-gratia payment from the government had been partially blocked by the company, were engaging with the company in “in out-of-court talks…  in an effort to reach a settlement in order to avoid being ordered to give PBL a payout that would likely… far exceed the resources of the union, which had resorted to collecting $1 donations from supporters in the community.” That article also reported that Justice Lisa Shoman had granted the two parties six weeks to continue dialogue that would “hopefully lead to a finalized settlement agreement.”

At that point, some wondered whether the Port of Belize Ltd., which had reportedly not implemented the recommendations of an Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal, would act in good faith and prove the allegations against it—that it was acting in a spiteful manner and engaging in “financial and legal harassment of the CWU”—wrong. What has been reported, however, is that the company has made an offer to the CWU president that, if accepted, would cause the union to shoulder blame for PBL’s efforts to increase its profits, at the expense of Belizean shoppers.

Reports have surfaced of a proposed increase in container tariff rates that has been forward by the Port of Belize Limited. That proposed increase became public following a Monday night meeting between the company and the Christian Workers Union, during which the PBL reportedly attempted to make the union publicly portray itself as an accomplice in the PBL maneuver to amp its profits in exchange for the removal of the $1 million lawsuit hanging over union members’ heads. 

According to stevedore Raymond Rivers, during a meeting which took place between the parties, the company allegedly proposed to CWU president, Evan “Mose” Hyde, a settlement to the two cases brought by PBL against the CWU. The lawsuit stems from an eight-day strike staged by the stevedores in January of this year after their efforts to negotiate better working arrangements and compensation for lost earnings due to the transfer of sugar-loading to Big Creek were met with proposals by PBL that the stevedores found to be insulting and provocative. PBL claims that the strike was illegal (although there had been a notice of industrial action by the union a few months before) and that it caused significant economic losses, since the industrial action by stevedores who belong to the CWU prevented the loading and unloading of containers on ships docked at the PBL.

PBL has been claiming a total of $1.034 million dollars in damages from several members of the union, inclusive of stevedores who sit on the CWU’s negotiating team (Guy Neal, Winfield Dennison, Kenton Blanco, James Neal, and Wendell Whitaker) and the president of the CWU, Evan “Mose” Hyde.  According to Rivers, the company is willing to settle—but there is a condition. Hyde would have to attach his name to the PBL’s request to the government for permission to increase container tariff rates.

Any increase in those rates would mean a direct increase in the prices of consumer goods imported through the Port of Belize and would further drive up the cost of living at a time of record inflation rates. It is this exact concern—about an increase in the prices of goods—that had caused many members of the public and the business community to urge the stevedores to desist from industrial action in January when containers were not being unloaded by stevedores who were on strike. The CWU had borne the brunt of the blame for that delay in unloading, even though union members had said they had no other course of action due to the refusal of PBL to address their concerns and prevent such a scenario. And now, once again, the CWU is facing a scenario in which blame could be diverted from the PBL to the union for a price increase. Rivers asserted when he was interviewed this week that the PBL is trying to use Hyde as a scapegoat for a price hike that will benefit, not the stevedores, but PBL.

“He came and explained to us that they want to raise the tariff on the containers,” Rivers said, “and they want the president to sign off on it, and when he signs off pan it, we di ask he weh we wa get, and he di tell we they nuh wa give we nothing, and when the Belizean public start to ask weh di happen, and why the grocery gone up and why everything gone up… they wa try blame it pan Brother Mose, yo know,” Rivers said.

The settlement of the two cases would no doubt lift a burden off the union and its president and union members, who have been blocked from fully accessing an ex-gratia payment given to the stevedores by the government as compensation for hardships they have suffered due to the privatization of the port and who also have a million-dollar lawsuit looming over them.

During an interview this week, the Prime Minister himself, Hon. John Briceño, noted that the PBL’s request for a container tariff increase is unrelated to the lawsuits brought against the union, and that the union has nothing to do with such an effort to hike rates.

“Absolutely not, that has nothing to do with the CWU. The CWU had an agreement with us in government. We had paid them their $1.5 million dollars. While we did not put it in the agreement, we agreed that we have to work the hours that they do; it’s archaic, it’s expensive, it’s something that was done a long time ago, that is still something we are working on how we can address that,” said Prime Minister Briceño.

PM Briceño did say that the suggestion of an increase in tariffs was first introduced during the Barrow administration and would have been approved had not there been a change in government as a result of the 2020 general elections. Rt. Hon. Barrow, however, has said that any increase at the time was off the table, and he insisted that PM Briceño’s comments were the farthest thing from the truth.

“I am afraid that the good Prime Minister is being utterly disingenuous, completely dishonest, in saying what he says,” Barrow said.

Prime Minister Briceño did note, during his remarks, however, that his administration would have to take a serious look at any increase in container tariffs.

“We recognized at the time Belize is going through a very difficult time. There is the issue of inflation. Obviously, we are very aware of it, and we are aware of whatever implication it would have, so should that come to us. Obviously, as a Cabinet, we have to take a very serious look before we can decide any increase at this time,” PM Briceño said.

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