No jobs, no pay - transport workers’ suffering continues!
About 50 persons congregated outside the offices of the Labour Department on Albert Street West in Belize City on Tuesday of this week, in a continuation of the saga of National Transportation Services Limited (NTSL), put into receivership by the Belize Bank nearly a month ago.
They allege that receiver for the Bank, Kevin Castillo, has apparently reneged on a commitment to resume runs for the company as of December 28, 2010, after reaching an agreement with the Labour Department to pay the company’s workers two weeks’ salary on Christmas Eve, December 24. About eighty-three employees of an estimated 275 received payment.
According to fired Operations Manager for NTSL, Philip Jones, the agreement was that the company would resume operations on the 28th, and there was an understanding that the workers left out in the cold would resume working for the company – in fact, Castillo claimed, they had never actually lost their jobs.
Since then, there has been no word either from the receiver, Castillo, or from Labour, and on Tuesday the workers sought answers.
But they will have to continue to wait, as they were told that a meeting would be arranged with Castillo by the end of this week.
The Labour Department contends that they do not have complete records as to the employment rolls for National Transport, Bel-Bus Limited (put in receivership December 1, 2010), and Belize Metro and Belize Transit Limited.
But Jones maintains that they have provided everything that Labour needs and that the receiver is “using tactics to prolong the process.”
Jones has been taking a prominent role in fighting for the benefits of his fellow employees, and on Tuesday he defended company directors David and Antonio Novelo, saying that they have been actively participating and are pursuing the legal route, but that in the meantime the receivership is responsible for the workers’ fate.
“Either they put us back to work, or if we are not going back to work, then we should get our pay,” said Jones. “We have to make the stand; there is a track record with this receiver, that he has not been doing a proper job. It happened with Novelos’ Bus Line and we will not sit down and see it happen again at National Transport.”
Jones continues to warn of a possible protest in front of the Belize Bank if the workers do not get what is owed to them.
We spoke to a number of senior employees from the Western Zone, in which NTSL lost a heavy number of runs in 2008, who say they were not among those paid on the 24th.
Fidel Cocom, a supervisor at the company’s base in Benque Viejo, and some of his co-workers – mechanic Neftali Pech and his assistant Alejandro Martinez; the supervisor of the Benque to San Ignacio run Juan Alberto Arreaza; Benque office assistant Anna Ochoa and San Ignacio terminal supervisor Anthony Ayala – told Amandala that the last four weeks or so have been painful for them and their families, as their jobs remain in limbo.
“I feel like I am drowning,” Cocom said. “We have been left behind like garbage. They have treated us worse than animals. Even a camel can travel the desert without water for seven days. I haven’t seen a dollar since December 10. I have to borrow from my friends and family, but I can’t keep doing that forever.”
Of the Labour Department, he questioned: “Are they there to work for all Belizeans, or only some? We need our complaints addressed now, immediately, no waiting. The receiver didn’t wait to take our buses. So we can’t wait for him, either.”
Miss Ochoa told us, “I am an employee of National Transport. How can the receivership say they don’t know who the employees are? The Commissioner (Ivan Williams) told us that they didn’t even come to Benque; they sent someone to Benque to stop the buses.”
And there are other pressing matters, as Cocom showed us documents for the lease of office space, a bathroom and two parking spaces at the compound of the Savannah Taxi Cooperative on Savannah Street in San Ignacio, for which they owed two months’ rent, $300 per month, and counting.
“I want what is owed to me. At least the two weeks’ salary; I haven’t been paid since December 10,” Narciso Chan, a driver from Corozal, told us.
According to Jones, the receivership is not barred from resuming runs in the North, where an injunction is in place against the Transport Board from 2008, pending the results of a court case that continued this week in the Supreme Court. There are 8 regular runs from Belize City to Chetumal, Quintana Roo; three to Maskall on the Old Northern Road; and two Premier Line runs from Belize City to Chetumal.
The receiver, Kevin Castillo, continues his silence, and both Chief Transport Officer Gareth Murillo and Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams were out of office when we tried to contact them today concerning the situation.
Indications are that the promised meeting between attorneys for NTSL, the receiver and Labour did not go through as planned. Amandala