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Chamber of Commerce says it sympathizes with stevedores, but actions are ‘damaging thousands of Belizeans’

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Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2022. 10:34 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) says its plea to stevedores, the Christian Worker’s Union (CWU), and the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) to resume negotiations or submit to the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal is not a case of, per the idiom, ‘full belly man telling empty belly man to keep heart.’

The stevedores have said that they have suffered for months, even years, at the hands of the Port executives managing its receivership (the Port is also a member of the Chamber). In statements last week they indicated that they made the sacrifice to help keep the Port open through Christmas so as not to disrupt the nation’s gears, but they have reached the end of their collective rope.

The stevedores and PBL are at odds over appointments to manage the gangs that unload containers as well as the still-undelivered compensation for loss of work on the sugar boats.

Councilor for the Chamber and Consultant for the National Gas Company Limited (NGC), Daniel Gutierrez, told us that comparison of the situation for the stevedores and the wider impacts of the impasse isn’t the same: “Whereas we are certainly not suggesting that the stevedores shouldn’t continue to fight for what they perceive to be their right, what we are saying is that in this fight, their actions – the actions of the fact that we are not getting the ships in, is damaging not dozens of Belizeans – hundreds of Belizeans, thousands of Belizeans.”

The right of the stevedores to act and to negotiate, which must be respected, cannot come, he added, “to the detriment of the economy…the thousands upon thousands of Belizeans, many of them poorer than you, who also need to put food on the table.”

Jody Williams, another executive member, and executive at Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods Limited, added that an extended stand-off combined with the effects of the pandemic, borders reopening, and other issues could endanger the country: “All of this coming together makes the impact on us, on everyone in Belize – it’s not good for the country if this continues…We need to see the bigger picture, and we respect the stevedores, but the country, we must move. The country is like an engine – and any breakdown we need to fix as quickly as possible so that it continues running.”

Chamber President Marissa Longsworth said they are keeping in contact with the Port and getting ‘play-by-play’ on efforts to resolve the situation, but not with the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU). While the Port is a member of the Chamber, she said they are not being treated any differently with respect to their dispute.

The Union is slated to hold a press briefing this morning at 11 a.m. to offer more on its side.

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