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#506040 - 07/22/15 11:00 AM BEL: Management Vs Union, The Gloves Are Off
Marty Offline
BEL's union, the Belize Energy Workers has taken to the picket line - to protest what members say is hardball being played at the negotiating table by the management of the power company. The Union says it is asking for an across the board 8% raise for union members, while BEL says that over the past four years, employees have received an increase of over 20% in salaries. That's a vastly different interpretation, and today as the BEL workers used their lunch break for day two of picketing - 7News asked about those discrepancies - and Marvin Mora didn't play to throw it on BEL:...

Jules Vasquez
"The first allegation made in there is that at the commencement of negotiations, Belize Energy Workers union's proposal was for an increase in salaries and benefits amounting to 90% of salary. That's a lot to ask for Mr. Mora, that's no laughing matter."

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"Yes, it's a laughing matter for us because first off, we would really want the media to start to take the union's position rather seriously. Who in their right mind, would ask a 90% salary increase across the board?"

Jules Vasquez
"So it's untrue?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"It's an outright lie!"

Jules Vasquez
"BEL is lying?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"They are lying all the way to the end. Let me tell you what they are doing, whenever you go into negotiations you have a list of proposals. You're not expecting that all your proposals will be accepted. So if I approach you with a list of proposals, you can't say I'm proposing to you everything that I have in there to be accepted at face value. That's what they are doing, they are adding up all the salaries, benefits, allowances, everything. And by the way they are inflating the figures, so they allow the whole thing to be presented all the way to the end, all the items that deal with financials and then they tally up the whole thing. And that's what they're saying is the 90% increase in salary. For the record, salaries we only requested about 46% increase but that was the initial proposal. Like I said, you always have to make an initial proposal substantial, and when it comes to our counter proposal it was more around 10%. The next thing, our last proposal to them was 8.2% salary increase across the board and all the benefits. And they are doing the exact same thing, they are adding up the numbers and misrepresenting salaries by total cost of labour."

Jules Vasquez
"But now, according to BEL, over the past 4 years BEL employees have received an increase of over 20% in salaries."

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"Okay remember those are their figures. I won't dispute that the employees have not received an increase, they have. But what has to be made very clear is that there is a system of appraisal that is already set in BEL from King Hatchet was the hammer, where if you don't perform, you don't get any."

Jules Vasquez
"A war of words at this time. Where do we go from here in terms of, will you all have abandoned mediation. You said it's fruitless, you aren't that far apart. Where do we go from here?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"The union right now has its game plan. The demonstration that you are seeing is a peaceful demonstration. We reserve the right to do what is within the law to deal with this matter. The company is being hard-headed because all they have to do is remove the two conditions. There were no two conditions to their proposal. Later on they brought in two conditions that union is not willing to accept."

The conditions that the unions says BEL unfairly introduced are these: first, an adjustment to the sick days benefit to require employees to produce a medical certificate for 1-day absence due to illness, and a return to the vesting period for the Pension Fund from 7 to 15 years.

The change in the sick leave requirement is because of the sickout that the union staged in May, and the vesting clause, BEL wants to change that back to 15 years because the former Fortis management changed it to 7 on the day before they handed over the ownership to the government.

Here's what Mora had to say about that:..

Jules Vasquez
"They have made a complaint to the sickout. they say constitute a strike and that's why they are requiring a doctor's paper for 1 day sick leave, because of something the union did abusing that privilege of 1 day without a doctor's paper."

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"Cause and effect. If you slap me in my face what do expect me to do? I have to bring it down raw creole to you. If you slap me in my face... am I supposed to sit down there and wait and see what will happen? Don't I have the right to react to what you're doing to me?"

Jules Vasquez
"They say the best thing that you all wanted to remain at 7 years when that is an FORTIS initiative which FORTIS did the day before it they handed over the company."

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"Obviously the company want to insult the employees in saying that we are siding with the FORTIS company. I have to remind the company that while the same top management of the company fled, the employees you see marching here remain and still serve the community and customers and two, we did not stop the Government from taking over the company because we could have protested. We could have done a lot of things and this union stayed neutral. The employees are not the ones that are trying to be hard and difficult in this situation. It is the company who is adamant for us to bend our hand to accept those very unfair conditions which we will not accept, Jules."

Jules Vasquez
"Now, what happens after Wednesday?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union
"Well, after the Wednesday the union meets again to re-assess the situation where we are. If the company still insists in holding their position, the union will have to decide to elevate this to the next level. Whether it be in industrial form or in a diplomatic manner trying to get this resolve with the owner of the company who is by the way the Government of Belize."

For the other side of the story today we spoke with BEL's PR Manager who discussed the reason for their counter-proposal. She told us that while the company turned profits this year, there have been years - very recently - when the company was not performing well. She stressed that even though the financial burden to the company was clearly unfavorable to the company, they did not cut the benefits of the employees which has increased their salaries by 20% over the last 4 years:

Vonetta Burrell, PR Manager - BEL
"The 6th, the negotiations entered into mediation by the labour commissioner, because at that point both parties were unable to reach an agreement regarding certain matters that had a financial impact."

Daniel Ortiz
"So what's the company's position on the fact that they have decided 'it makes no sense, we should walk away from the table.'"

Vonetta Burrell, PR Manager - BEL
"Well the purpose of mediation is to have the mediator be the third party to assist the two negotiating parties with reaching an agreement. So that is where we are at this point. We are hoping that through the mediation process, we can resume discussions with the BWU and reach an agreement that is beneficial to all our stakeholders. We'd like to remind you that over the past 4 years since 2011, even during the time when the company was not performing well financially, we were actually losing money. Throughout this period our employees have been receiving bonus payments, they've received a lump sum payment in 2011 and 2013. And over these 4 years, our employees received an average increase of 20% of their salaries. At this point the company is offering an increase of 29% over the next 4 years and the two conditions put forward are reasonable in our opinion. The first being that employees currently enjoy the benefit of, if you are feeling ill and you report to work sick, the first day you need not submit a medical certificate. Anything past that day you will be presenting a medical certificate if you are reporting sick. We are an essential service, we need to ensure that we are here to provide reliable electricity to our customers in an uninterrupted fashion as best as possible. And in May, we believe that a sickout was staged because this loophole that exist with the benefit was used to the potential detriment of the service that we provide to customers."

Daniel Ortiz
"Is this increase that you all propose, 29%, will it be something that each employee, even if they are, according to them, at the roof of their appraisal system, will they still be able to benefit?"

Vonetta Burrell, PR Manager - BEL
"Yes, because what we have proposed in this 29%, we are proposing to the union that the union may choose which of these benefits they would like to apply the 29%. It's not restricted to a specific method of payment. You can choose any one of these benefits to apply that 29%. That is the offer that's on the table."

The Workers Union will continue their picketing tomorrow.

Channel 7


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#506059 - 07/23/15 10:48 AM Re: BEL: Management Vs Union, The Gloves Are Off [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize Energy Workers Take Their Case To The Labour Minister


Today members of BEL’s Energy Workers Union ended three days of picketing in front of the utility’s corporate headquarters. So what will they do next? Well, both sides were negotiating a new Collective Agreement since November of last year, but talks broke down in June, and that’s when they entered into mediation with the Labour Commissioner. But the union walked away from mediation and went to the picket line. What’s next? Well, they’ve been called to meet with the Labour minister, Godwin Hulse.

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

"The employees are still here so they have not managed to convince the employees of what they are saying. And if what they're saying is actually that they don't want to give anything to the employees, all they have to do is just tell us - we don't believe you earned anything, we don't believe that it is fair that we give you anything and we are not going to give you anything and the story done. That's all they have to do, they don't have to make the story long."

Daniel Ortiz

"Do you believe that is what they're saying at this time?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

"Man, that is exactly they're saying."

Daniel Ortiz

"They're saying that while the company wasn't performing well enough for profits to be earned, they still gave you all your benefits and it has been equivalent to 20% over the last 4 years in terms of an increase. What is the response at this time of the membership of the union?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

Looks at crowd: "Anybody here get 20% increase in their salary?"

Crowd

"No!"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

"I think you get your response right there."

Daniel Ortiz

"So then, what is the next step for the BEWU?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

"The next step well, right now we recently received a call from the minister. The union is considering it and we are going to give him a response very soon - probably in the next hour. But at the end of the day, the union still has it's options open and what ever this crowd and the rest of the workers that didn't come out because they are on lunch decide, that's exactly what we have to do. If the minister is empowered by the government and indeed he can make decisions for government, he doesn't have to consult no BEL. He could see what we are requesting is fair and just and there's absolutely no way that any employee in their right mind would accept they two outrageous condition the company wants from us."

Daniel Ortiz

"Now sir, what if he sides with the company itself and agrees with their position over yours the union, what will happen then?"

Marvin Mora, Belize Energy Workers Union

"Brother man at the end of the day, it is this group of people here who will decide what will happen next and I believe they understand their true power and they understand what they can do and that's why we are here expressing ourselves to the media so that the customers know that - push come to shove, these workers here are prepared to go all the way.”

The union will be meeting with Minister Hulse tomorrow afternoon.

Channel 7


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