Photo: Stevedores from Gang # 5 leaving PBL’s security booth to work the MV Aries at 3:00 p.m. Monday, May 8, 2023
BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 8, 2023
The standoff between Port of Belize Ltd. (PBL) and the Christian Workers Union (CWU) that resulted in BEC container vessel, MV Aries being left untouched since it docked at the PBL pier-head on Wednesday, May 3, continued throughout the weekend.
When we went to press on Thursday, May 5, we had not yet received PBL’s response to the CWU’s “proposal for immediate resumption of work.” What unfolded since then was a press release and letter war, with PBL being caught in an outright lie.
In its response letter to the CWU return-to-work proposal, PBL CEO Ted Peralta rebutted some of the statements made by the CWU. He denied that Gang # 5 had been locked out by PBL and that the two-gang arrangement for larger vessels was only a pilot. He also asserted that the redundancy package issue for bulk sugar moving to Big Creek is unrelated to the two-gang rotation. Perhaps most importantly, PBL insisted that the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal order of March 30, 2022 “did not include any monetary award to the CWU.” Instead, Peralta said what the Tribunal had ordered was that the parties “… engage in negotiations relating to any redundancy payment that may be due to stevedores for losses suffered as a result of the move of bulk sugar from PBL to Big Creek.”
During an interview on Friday, a reporter from Lord Michael Ashcroft’s television station Channel 5, in framing a question to CWU president Evan “Mose” Hyde, said that, while CWU started their compensation request at $5 million then brought that down to $3.5 million, PBL has not budged from the amount it is willing to pay—zero dollars—throughout that time. And while both sides are on separate ends of the spectrum, PBL in its response letter said it was amenable to sit and discuss all outstanding issues, and agreed “to immediately allow container Gang Number 5 to offload the MV Aries after which the 2-gang rotation system will resume immediately for the next container gang vessel.”
The Labour Department subsequently brought the two parties together on the morning of Friday, May 5, and they agreed to resume discussions at 1:00 p.m. that same day, but only Labour officials and CWU reps showed up in the afternoon, with PBL reps being a no-show—effectively halting settlement discussions.
PBL then put out a press release with an opening statement that read, “It is with great disappointment that we wish to inform you, our customers and the country as a whole, that the MV Aries 056 will not be discharging or loading any of its containers at Port of Belize this week. The CWU has unilaterally opted to renege on our previous agreements of working larger ships with a 2-gang rotation which ensured a continuous work schedule of offloading and onloading which is carried out everywhere else in the world. The CWU instructed our stevedores not to attend work and have been absent now for the last three 15-hour shifts. This has caused the MV Aries to now depart the Port of Belize. This has consequently caused financial damage to all stakeholders including the domestic consumers of Belize.”
This was obviously not true, because …, as it turns out, the ship, known as the “money ship” bearing 200+ containers, had gone nowhere. It was still docked at the PBL pierhead until after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 5, when the Belize Port Authority ordered that it be moved to anchor to allow for other vessels in cue to dock for offloading. The Shipping Association confirmed to Amandala that the vessel was at the pierhead and the Association had not been called to arrange a pilot. Up until Friday evening, the shipping agent had also not yet made a decision on whether the vessel would depart to Jamaica or head to the Big Creek Port.
Referring to the morning meeting with the CWU and Labour officials, PBL in its Friday afternoon release stated, “Today we met with the Labour Commissioner and the CWU’s Negotiating Team in an attempt to enable the offload of the ship. We share our compromising position with the CWU who continues to intermingle the 2-gang rotation with the payment for sugar redundancy despite having a mechanism to address their grievance. This hardline position equivocally results in the CWU’s confirmation that the entire country is being held ransom due to a sugar redundancy matter where no stevedore was made redundant and that has been ruled upon via the Essential Services Tribunal and which continues to be discussed via tripartite discussions with the Ministry of Labour. The Labour Department, whilst mediating the matter, recommended returning to the Essential Services Tribunal in order to conclude this matter but this was shot down by the CWU. We remain committed to resolving this matter for future ship services that require a 2-gang rotation to be undertaken for the efficient and effective discharge and loading.” The CWU countered that, in fact, throughout that entire period, since Wednesday, May 3, Gang #5 was available to work within a 30-minute notice.
(“…a sugar redundancy matter where no stevedore was made redundant…”? Wow!)
Ultimately, the weekend ended without any activity on the MV Aries, and no calls for continued meetings of the parties and Labour officials. PBL did issue calls for stevedores to work a bulk cargo vessel and a container boat on Saturday and Sunday. The stevedores reported to work, proving that they are not withholding their labour.
This morning, Monday, May 8, we received a notice for a press conference to be held by the CWU on Tuesday, May 9. Closer to mid-afternoon, we got word that Gang # 5 had been given notice to work the MV Aries beginning at 3:00 p.m. They reported to work and were allowed in. However, we are told the press conference is still on, as all the issues of concern remain unresolved.