Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2022. 10:57 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: This afternoon the Christian Workers’ Union and its legal team addressed the press on the stymieing of its efforts to pay out to stevedores $1.5 million in compensation agreed by the Government of Belize and the Port Authority by an interim injunction granted by the Supreme Court Monday afternoon.
Attorney Darrell Bradley, who along with Magalie Perdomo represents the Union, argued that nothing was in place preventing the CWU from distributing the funds, not even an application for an interim injunction before the court: “… just because you file an application does not mean that that automatically grants an injunction. Everything has to be considered on its merits and everything has to be following the principle of the rule of law. This money is owed to the stevedores, they’ve worked for it, and people who may say whatever, this was a negotiated agreement to pay compensation for individuals who were deserving. That’s why the memorandum was executed. There is no reason that those payments should have ceased or any of the processes that CWU had already commenced should have ceased just because at the last minute the applicants would have elected to file for an injunction stopping the payment.”
As to suggestions the court asked for an undertaking not to move until it had heard the application, Bradley said they did not agree to that: “If you ask me for an undertaking, which is that you are asking me to voluntarily – and I must emphasize that word, voluntarily – you are asking me to voluntarily desist with a course of action, and I tell you that after consulting with clients we will not give that undertaking, what does that indicate? That we will continue with the course of action that has been underlined. This view or this statement that somehow, because you have knowledge of something you are supposed to stop, that is not law. [The] law is that you follow court orders and you follow court judgments. On Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday until two o’clock, there was no injunction restraining any officer of the CWU from doing anything. This was a lawfully entered into agreement; the agreement promises certain payments; the payments were made; the payments were for the stevedores, and unless restrained, the CWU was completely within its rights to make disbursements.”
Bradley punched holes in the applicants/claimants’ case, starting with the timing of their application, which he pointed out came well after they were aware of the negotiations with the Government and the publication and discussion of the Memorandum of Understanding on February 3, and that their filing was not as “urgent” as they claimed; and that it was done in bad faith by filing without notice to the Union and other defendants, who got their documents on Saturday (when the court does not sit), for hearing on Monday. Moreover, according to Bradley, having known of the negotiations to which they admitted in their submissions to the court, they had ample time to bring forward their claim; that they waited until literally the last minute belies their claims of wanting the Government and the Union to follow due process.
Bradley also pointed out that the Government as a sovereign entity is entitled to enter into agreements as a matter of policy with almost anyone and that in those with a payment involved, under the Constitution, and subject only to limitations by the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act, a special warrant may be made which gives up to 90 days for parliamentary approval, a time which has started running.
But legal arguments aside, Evan “Mose” Hyde, President of the CWU, said it was the workers’ expectation that the money they had been promised would be paid: “This is the day that all our members, the stevedores, had a fair and reasonable expectation based on the agreement that was signed by their bargaining agent which they had given consensus to, that they had a fair and reasonable expectation that since as a body they have complied with the terms of that agreement that there would be their share of that ex gratia payment from government which states the twenty-eighth of February. So as the bargaining agent, our guidance to the negotiating team was to do their best to make sure that our members would be able to access those funds on that date because we feel very duty-bound to that agreement based on the consensus that we got from our members. That is why yesterday was such a critical day for us.”
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