Most Belizeans have at some time tasted the juicy HL’s burgers. The local burgers have been around for more than three decades and became a staple of Belizean fast-food. But all that’s coming to an end because the famous burger franchise is closing down; a victim of the economic hard times. Many are being left jobless and News Five’s Marion Ali found out that their financial woes are far from over.
Marion Ali, Reporting
Belize’s Burger King, HL’s Burger, is on its last phase of permanently shutting down for business. The closure comes thirty-three years after its proprietor, Howell Longsworth, ventured out into the burger-making business. But as Longsworth told us off camera, his franchise was crippled with taxes, seven million dollars worth. A couple years ago, Longsworth declared bankruptcy after he defaulted on payments. While many business people can sympathize with Longsworth for his losses, more will be touched by the stories that the single mothers employed by the business have to tell. They were called in earlier this month to be told that they no longer had their jobs, and many of them have not been paid.
Raquel Rufino, Unemployed by HL’s shutdown
“Second ah March we work good and the night I mi deh pan night shift, they call we and tell we that we fi mi gone dah the meeting nine o’clock the Thursday morning which was the third of March. So we gone dah the meeting. When we reach dah the meeting, well everybody sit down and they tell we well unu know the business mi eena trouble and whatever, whatever, whatever but dah wah instant shutdown—pay done, everything done, nothing we can’t get. All they do dah just write out wah paper stating that we owe unu this, we owe unu that. And we can’t say we wah feed fi we children outta wah paper. And then they say they wah call we and tell we something. We noh even get wah call and dah done over two weeks already.”
Kamera Belisle, Unemployed by HL’s shutdown
“We still have not gotten pay even for the week that we done worked—no service pay, no nothing, nothing at all.”
“How long were you working for the company?”
“So in addition to your regular pay, you are due severance and…”
“And holiday pay and notice pay. Up to now we haven’t received anything. We call, we text them and they noh reply to none of our texts and none of our phone calls.”
“They haven’t told you that they will pay you?”
“They promise that they will pay when he sell some land, but that could be up to forever before he sell that land.”
“How are you making ends meet right now?”
“Well right now we get a lee assistance from Mister Moses and COLA and we wah do wah barbecue sale fi try make we stand up pan fi we own foot. We di try open our own small business so we could help fi wiself and we noh have to depend pan nobody.”
Fern Marage, Unemployed by HL’s shutdown
“The person dah the Labour weh see we say that how they have to do wah back check and see weh really di happen with it. That dah weh dehn tell we. Sometimes when time we have we extra, we just chip it ina di shop. For instance me, if I dah wah manager and I see my shop the run outta certain things, I noh the make the money for it, I goh ina my personal pocket and I take it out of my personal pocket and I buy it for the shop and when I done if I could get it back, I get it back—sometimes I noh get it back. And I really need wah job right now Miss cause ih really hard.”
Aside from the stark economic crunch, Raquel Rufino, who is due to deliver her baby two months from now, says she made a very disappointing discovery recently.
“Thinking all the while I have payments dah Social, when I gone dah social, I noh even have enough payments.”
“Fi how long they haven’t been paying?”
“From August they haven’t been paying, but the thing is dah noh evey year—you suppose to have fifty-two payments per year. 2008, I have nine payments; noh even half ah di fifty-two I had for the year. And then nothing noh said, nothing noh done. I gone dah labor, labor noh even give me back wah call yet. I gone dah labor and ask they what wah be the procedure, weh wah happen, weh wah happen? Nothing, nothing nothing. They wah investigate. Noh even they di say try push fi see weh gone on with this thing yah.”
“You are expecting when?”
“May, late May I fi have baby.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I noh even know weh wah happen. Not even, the service pay, not even the last week pay I get from them. Noh even the last wek pay. Say if I noh mi pregnant now, I coulda mi get up and say I gwen go look fi job. Nobody noh wah hire me right now.”
While she might not be in a position to land a job anytime soon, the Committee Organized for Liberty through Action, COLA, is proving some relief to the unemployed mothers.
Moses Sulph, President, COLA
“We’re having a programme to try assist them with different grocery items and a little grant. Presently we are trying to see how we can get them one of the coke stalls so that they can run it after. We’re having a barbecue on the second of April to raise funds. Mister Yoni who is a member of the executive has donated a thousand dollars to buy chicken and beef so we can barbecue then what we can do with that money is pay for the location and the Coca Cola thing so they can start their own little thing and see how they can assist themselves from there.”
As for Longsworth, he told us that he is trying to work out paying off the women’s severance and notice pay and salaries as early as possible after he sells assets. He says he has committed to making the payments and is currently in dialogue with the Labour Department to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, the last of the HL’s outlets still open today, according to Longsworth, are operating under new ownership. Reporting for News Five, I am Marion Ali.