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“Christian Workers Union to blame for current state of affairs,” says Port of Belize

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Posted: Monday, July 27, 2020. 10:10 am CST.

By BBN Staff: The Port of Belize Limited (PBL) is challenging the Christian Workers Union’s (CWU’s) account of last week’s protest that resulted in several people being brutalized by police and the events leading up to the protest, saying that the union is to blame for the current state of affairs between the two entities.

The PBL issued a statement addressing several issues including the events at the demonstration last Wednesday, the redundancy of 36 PBL employees, the relocation of sugar vessels away from the PBL, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the PBL and its staff, and the matter of stevedore work hours.

In that statement, the PBL notes that the CWU members were violent at the protest and that police had restrained themselves from taking action for the most part, only acting when the CWU members became violent.

“a. There were no ‘peaceful’ demonstrations outside the gates of the Port. b. Scores of CWU members violated Domestic and International Security Protocols by unlawfully occupying the Port property and causing the following damage: i. Setting fire to vehicles ii. Hurled projectiles (stones and bottles) at Police and PBL staff iii. Sabotaged the electrical supply in an attempt to damage cargo iv. Damaged the IT and Security infrastructure in an attempt to ensure the Port cannot operate or witness criminal activities v. Smashed windows of buildings in an attempt to delay any potential reopening of the Port vi. Threatening PBL staff with deadly and bodily harm,” the PBL said.

The PBL said that the redundancies were a direct result of the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a 94 percent reduction in cruise vessel-related revenue, a 26 percent reduction in cargo-related revenue and a 2020 net result is 14 times worse than the same period of 2019. The PBL said that the redundant positions come from a higher percentage of non-union staff compared to the overall percentage of port staff. The Port also said that the redundant employees refused to accept their redundancy letters or leave the compound, which prompted the decision to notify them via text message and request that the letters be picked up.

A major issue the PBL addressed was the fact the CWU publicly declared its intention to cause the company financial harm, even after being made aware of the worsening financial situation due to the pandemic. The PBL quotes CWU representative Will Lambey, as saying “so we’re hoping that through this method it will affect the bottom line for PBL which is their financial bottom line.”

On the issue of sugar vessels being diverted from the port, the PBL said, “Since March 6, CWU stevedores have performed 4 illegal strike actions against sugar and other vessels; causing them to divert away from Port of Belize and fulfilling the very situation where ‘redundancy’ is paid.”

On the matter of the CBA, the PBL said that it presented a proposal on April 3, but since then the CWU has not provided any counter-proposal and has not responded to 12 separate requests for a meeting to continue negotiations. Meanwhile, the PBL notes that stevedores at the port earn an average of $38,216 per year for an average of 38 days of work, which is contrary to the labor laws of Belize because many of them work in excess of 30 consecutive hours. The Port stresses that the CWU has resisted every attempt to align stevedores’ working hours with the country’s labor laws, despite the risk, it poses to the stevedores working those long shifts and those working along with them.

“PBL cannot in good conscience remain silent any longer on our inability to work toward a negotiated settlement with the CWU. Its lack of good faith negotiations has brought our two organizations to the point we are today,” the PBL said.

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