Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2023. 9:44 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: The waterfront is once again in turmoil after the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) raised the alarm on Friday over negotiations for better insurance coverage for stevedores.
In a statement, the Union said that with coverage from the previous provider set to expire and an agreement in place for new coverage, the Port of Belize Limited management apparently backtracked and tried to initiate discussions tying the new coverage to altered hours of work, a matter the Union thought had been settled.
The CWU called this “reprehensible and unacceptable.” It added ominously, “What happens next on the waterfront rests with PBL.”
The Union sought to explain itself further at a Monday press conference. President Leonora Flowers outlined that as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Port that has not yet been approved, insurance is provided for that is co-paid by the employers and employees: “This insurance has been in effect and we should have negotiated by October 1st, 2020, new terms, better terms, better rates. We can show you that and that has not happened to date. We are with one provider and we have asked for the conversation to commence; in fact, the conversation had commenced. We were to move to a new provider, giving better rates, of course with increased costs. Our stevedores had agreed to that. We will increase the cost, they’ll pay an increase, but there will be better rates and benefits, better benefits to be had.”
Flowers further deplored PBL’s attempt to get them to change what has been previously agreed to within the CBA: “We have said to them time and time again that as a responsible union, CWU cannot negotiate away terms in the collective [bargaining] agreement, the current one without sitting down and properly negotiating those terms. The insurance is already a part of the CBA, the hours of work is already a part of the CBA, but they want to tell us now, we’ll only change insurance if you agree to new terms. As president of this union since May, I have said several times to the PBL, and we’re written to them, let us get to the collective [bargaining] agreement and at that time we will negotiate in total what needs to be negotiated.”
Flowers added that both sides have their stances and all options are on the table to resolve the issue. If the matter goes to industrial action, the Union promises to follow all legal procedures.
Marlon Middleton, Chief Union Representative, added that workers continue on the job and emphasized that even with reason to do so, they have not and will not walk away unless forced: “We have workers that are working. at PBL without insurance because the insurance up last week. Honestly, I don’t really know what else to say because we are working, we are willing to work, we did not shut down the port…They freeze the money, we haven’t gone on strike. We ask for better insurance, they’re provoking us right now, they tell us they are not willing, but we’re still willing to work. So whenever anything happens, the country cannot blame us.”
The Port has not yet commented.
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