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Port of Belize stevedores, staff plead for their economic lives – but is anyone listening?

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Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2021. 4:44 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) has provided a copy of a Government MOU with a company known as Toledo Enterprises Limited. (This company survives as one of the four founding entities of the Big Creek Port outside Independence, Stann Creek District).

It was signed in 2006 by then Prime Minister Said Musa and Minister of Works, Transport and Communications Jose Coye for the Government and two of the principals and directors of Toledo Enterprises, and arose after the-then Minister of Ports, in 2002, granted the Big Creek Port a general license, not, as previously reported, restricted to banana operations, incurring the wrath of the owners of the Belize City Port which worried about loss of revenue.

Among the undertakings given was that the Port would not accept cargo normally handled in Belize City, and would restrict its operations to businesses in Southern Belize so as not to impact revenue streams in Belize City. One exception was granted for petroleum products. This now appears to be falling to the wayside as BSI/ASR restarts its push to export sugar from Big Creek rather than Belize City.

CWU President Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde noted that prior to the privatization of the Belize City Port in 1999, stevedores did use to go down to the Big Creek Port to work; indeed, you had to be part of the stevedore gang to get any waterfront work. The privatization removed many of those conditions, he said.

Now, the only group of fully unionized employees countrywide, down to about 40, faces the total and complete economic loss of their livelihoods, and no one – not the Government, not the Port, nor anyone else – seems to care, Hyde said.

Hyde emphasized that after last year’s tumult, reaching out to the Labour Department and to Prime Minister John Briceño, asking whether the Government would disregard the 2006 agreement, or has worked out a new one, or whether the old agreement was no longer binding. Similar overtures to former Prime Minister Dean Barrow elicited a noncommittal response, that the Government could not intervene in the affairs of a private company.

CWU had confirmed the BSI move two months ago, and sought legal advice which opined to the effect that the MOU and its provisions are still legally binding. The sugar company had previously said it has yet to decide on the move.

The Port has at least grudgingly agreed that a severance package would have to be prepared in the event that sugar does go South – but they have refused to directly talk about it despite 20 meetings since last October on the process of becoming a substitute and then a stevedore.

Hyde also noted that no narrative should be placed out there that stevedores want conflict, as the CWU has been agitating on behalf of the workers, who have been behind their union to settle the issue; today’s press briefing comes as the last or next-to-last sugar boat is being filled (the season is close to ending). The Port has additionally not done any discussion of the staff CBA, adding to the discontent.

 

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