BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 14, 2022
The Christian Workers Union has issued a release informing its members and the public that the claim filed by the Port of Belize Limited (PBL)against the union and the Government of Belize to prevent the issuance of a BZ$1.5 million ex-gratia payment to the stevedores who work at the port has been adjourned until November 4, 2022. The parties were to have appeared in court on Tuesday, September 13, for a hearing on the PBL’s case—which would have taken place at a time when the entity affiliated with PBL, Waterloo, is trying to convince the public that its construction of a cruise terminal at the port would generate good jobs, with favorable working conditions. The stevedores will thus have to wait for an additional month and a half to receive the court’s final determination on the matter.
During that extended period, says the CWU release, “Stevedore Members of the CWU, who have not received their compensation, continue to experience financial distress and difficulty as a result of this claim and interim injunction.” It is to be noted that after the payment had initially been made by GoB, the CWU had said that it had sped up its efforts to distribute the funds to the more than 100 stevedores, because, according to CWU president Evan “Mose” Hyde, they felt “hunted” by the Waterloo-affiliated enterprise, and saw “ bad mind” coming. But before the CWU fully disbursed the payment, PBL had gotten the court to impose a freeze on the finances of the union to prevent further payout—thus leaving a number of stevedores who had been anticipating the funds to pay bills and care for their families, without access to their funds.
In February of this year, the injunction had been sought by PBL to block the payment by GoB of $1.5 million to the stevedores (which would amount to roughy $10,000 or less to each of the stevedores) that had been promised to them in a Memorandum of Understanding geared at compensating those workers for the alleged harm that resulted from the privatization of PBL. An AMANDALA article dated Monday, February 28, had stated that PBL’s attorneys argued that no authorization was obtained to legalize the payment to the stevedores from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and that approval from the National Assembly could not have been obtained for the payment because no sitting of the House of Representatives had been scheduled in time for the payment date, February 28. The PBL, which, as previously mentioned, also filed a claim seeking damages of $1.3 million from the CWU, “purported to be fearful that if the money was disbursed to the struggling stevedores, it would not be recoverable,” said the article.
“Furthermore, once paid out and distributed to the individual stevedores, it is unlikely that the One Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars (BZ$1,5000,000.00) would be recoverable from the Fourth Defendant,” PBL’s attorney stated in its application for an injunction to block the payment.
The CWU members and many in the public domain view the claim brought by the employer against its employees as malicious. The CWU’s release calls it an “attempt to intimidate and to punish Stevedores.” In fact, at the time PBL brought the injunction, the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, had stated, “…. Yes, we will pay it in advance, because it is something that we felt needed to be done and at the same time to be able to ease the tensions that were taking place at the Port of Belize. We wanted to make sure that we could settle that without any kind of bloodshed or any kind of violence.”
He further stated, “My initial reaction is that it is unfortunate that PBL would take such a step to be able to prevent the stevedores to get a fund that we believe was merited. It’s something that’s a part of trying to correct history so that they can have access to these monies. The stevedores are not rich people, they need the money …”
The CWU president had remarked at the time, however, “If all of this is just one big ‘paratus. If all of this is just one big set up, and we nuh even know, because we cannot allow ourselves to become in any way off of our focus and alter because a million and a half dollars has been ex-gratia paid to us. Our members will lose that and more every single year going forward … Our members have not been made rich by it. They have not been made financially stable by it. It’s a gesture that they have received, and they have respect for … But our losses are going to be continuous, so we don’t have any delusion about the terrain that we are operating in, we don’t have any delusion that well, all of a sudden government loves stevedores. Ultimately, we have lost sugar, and the government had chosen not to implement or to defend its agreement that it had signed with Big Creek and with PBL …”
Hyde had also stated, in reference to PBL’s actions, “It appears that there is a deep embedded animosity, because that is what our members experienced it as—that you have to really have a deep problem with us, that you should have made it your business to try, you put your resources. You put your actual money, because lawyers don’t work for free. You put your money, you have the port that is in desperate need of improvement, you have equipment not working and being dependable; we have a pier that is in a state of disrepair, but your high priority for resources is to do your best to try to prevent that from happening.”
Nevertheless, the CWU stated in its release this week that it “is fortified in its position that the injunction will be discharged.”
If that injunction were indeed discharged in November, the stevedores who have not yet received their funds as a part of the ex-gratia payment given by the government will finally get that long-awaited disbursement. But that determination is yet to be made by the judge presiding over the case, Justice Lisa Shoman.
The release from the union notes, “CWU remains respectful of the Court but agitates for a fair and expeditious process of determining this matter so the remaining Stevedores can receive their compensation.”
In early October, the PBL and CWU go back to court for hearings related to another lawsuit brought by PBL for loss of earnings allegedly caused by what the port has deemed an illegal strike at the start of this year. The port is claiming over 1 million dollars in damages. Stevedores have already committed a portion of the payment granted to them by the government to cover the legal fees to be incurred in defending themselves in court.