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#508046 - 10/06/15 06:01 AM Social Security Workers Protest Countrywide
Marty Offline

Social Security Workers Protest Countrywide

Social Security employees staged protests all over the country today. The workers are demanding financial compensation because they haven't gotten their new uniforms - those have been delayed for 10 months.

Now, the agreement says that the workers should receive their uniforms every 18 months but that period expired last year December and now the workers say they want compensation for all those months without the uniforms. Today when we went to the Social Security office in the city, the employees had nothing to say but President of the Christian Workers Union Audrey Matura Shepherd spoke on their behalf. She says they are all entitled to compensation.

Audrey Matura Shephard, President, CWU
"What happened, they took their lunch time and for half hour in protest and disapproval of management's decision not to pay them their clothing allowance. They united and came out together to show management that they are not satisfied with their decision. Now don't think that they didn't just decide to get up and say we are not satisfied. There has been a process and there have been attempts and discussion and negotiation to get management to come around to accepting that let the present CBA, the protocols and procedures already established if you do not give the employees their uniform every 18 months as you should, then you need to give them a clothing allowance. This is an agreement. It's not like they are fighting for something new. This is already a right and entitlement that they have. It is something that they expect to be implemented. Unfortunately, for whatever reason management has been playing hard ball and they decided that they would not. You have to put that in context of the fact that also they are not only thinking about their uniforms, they are also thinking about what has been the environment in which they been negotiating the different issues."

"They are entitled to $450 annually when they don't get uniform. If for the entire 12 months you didn't get your uniform, you get the $450. If it's only for half of the 12 months, then it's only half of that. So the prorate it. That's how it works and if it's beyond the 12 months, then they get whatever amount of monies. But it's every 18 months that they are entitled to get new uniforms. The policy of the institution is that you must go to work in uniform."

Now if the workers had an issue with the current uniform and were unhappy for 11 months, why just now are they protesting and voicing their discontent? Is it just an act to force the finalization of the Collective Bargaining Agreement since elections are next month? Here is what Shepherd had to say about that.

Audrey Matura Shephard, President, CWU
"There is a lot of internal things that are happening and the staff has remained quiet for a long while, but now they are acting out - they are speaking out. They are mandating the union to do certain things and to say certain things on their behalf and that's their right. They are operating within their rights as workers and within the law to do what they do. For example today's protest is not illegal. Its heir lunch time. You can do anything you want during your lunch time."

Courtney Weatherburne
"Nothing with elections coming up?"

Audrey Matura Shephard, President, CWU
"Well remember we don't have any control as to when elections are called. All these CBA's that we are negotiating were already on the table before elections were called. So there is more to anything elections are called to damage us rather than us having to damage election."

Uniforms? Itís About Uniforms?

So now what is the Social Security Board's management saying on this issue? Well, they definitely aren't taking all the blame for the delayed uniforms. When we spoke to Chairman of the SSB Doug Singh he told us that the committee responsible for confirming the style and other details of the uniforms comprises of 3 union members and 2 members of management. But apart from that, the management says the workers are NOT entitled to any financial compensation because according to their understanding of the agreement - it does not say anything about compensation. Singh told us today that it has to with a difference in interpretation.

Doug Singh, Chairman, Social Security Board
"It is my understanding, I mean t wasn't clarified until today when I asked the CEO to meet with the chief of steward of the union, Ms. Flowers and ask exactly what the action was based on. Other than that we would been guessing. And they indicated that it was on the uniform issue and when I saw uniform issue, is they wrote a letter to Social Security asking for compensation for a clothing allowance payment in accordance with their interpretation of their collective bargaining agreement. We responded to that letter indicating, the CEO responded that we did not interpret the clause in the collective bargaining agreement as they did and that there was not a financial entitlement. They responded indicated that precedence was set because in the past when the uniforms was late on delivery, there was a payment made during that period and that precedence has been set and there is not only an expectation in their mind as an obligation and so they are not pleased with the board's position. I must say that subsequent to that we wrote them a letter and said that we are prepared to consider a payment of an ex-gratia as a result of the delay in the delivery. If they are prepared to consider our proposal in the collective bargaining agreement that moves the timeframe for delivery of the uniforms from 18 months to 24 months."

As to the proposal Singh refers to concerning the extension from every 18 months to 24 months - he says the workers gave a very insolent response and outright rejected it.

Now apart from deflecting all the blame for the uniform delay, Singh also went further by saying that it is unreasonable and simply unconscionable of the workers to ask for compensation when management is already spending a handsome sum for quality uniforms. Singh explained that there needs to be a shift in priority.

Doug Singh, Chairman, Social Security Board
"There cannot be a responsibility placed solely on the institution for any further delays. But I'll go beyond that. The uniforms that were procured from Trinidad this year cost a total of $277,000 for 273 employees. That in excess of $1,000 per employee on average. That is for 5 sets of uniforms to be worn by the staff for that 18 months period and it is my understanding that most Fridays, if not all Fridays are casual days. Now the board is challenged to come up with a recommendation to the Prime Minister for an increase in pension. And the board doesn't view increase to employees for clothing allowance, especially in light of the fact that the uniforms they had had held up very well. Because they pick good quality and they've had it sewn where they wanted it to and now to come back and asked for allowance because uniforms didn't meet the 18 months schedule? When they'd be wearing it the entire time. They are burdening the fund. The fund is not there for uniforms. The fund is there to pay beneficiaries benefit."

"How can you explain to an elderly lady or gentleman out here who hadn't had pension increase since 2002? That's some of their funds that should go towards pension increases is going to go to the employees, because the employees believe that they didn't get their uniforms on time. When the uniforms they got costs $277,000. In excess of $1,000 per person. There are some pensioners out there that are not even getting that for 6 months. I just think that priorities needs to be put in place."

Singh told us that the uniforms are here already and that only a handful of workers are left to get their uniforms. They should have gotten them today. Singh told us that the management is considering reducing the budget set for workers uniforms because in his view $277,000 is simply too much. Singh also explained that in the past when the workers were compensated it was because the material was probably low quality.

Worker Says Itís About More Than Uniforms

So as we told you SSB employees protested all over the country during their lunch break. We have an interview with SSB member from Belmopan courtesy our colleagues at PLUS TV. They told Plus TV it's more than the uniforms:

Employee - SSB
"We had our first protest this morning, the first sign that members are unhappy and the CEO called us in and basically dismissed us with nothing. Our members will not have it, we have sat by quietly and be good for too long. We need to pay attention to us."

"What sort of intimidation are you talking about?"

Employee - SSB
"Intimidation, telling us that because we are working for the people and it's the people's money, that people will not be on our side - we don't have the support of the public. We are begging for anything. We come to Social Security every day and we give our hard work and we expect to be treated with respect and dignity that is due to workers."

Management says there is a timeline for collective bargaining negotiations which both sides have agreed to.

Channel 7

#508129 - 10/09/15 06:02 AM Re: Social Security Workers Protest Countrywide [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

CWU And SSB Chairmanís Back And Forth Over Uniforms

Today Social Security Board workers finally spoke out on the issue of their uniform allowance. As we have been reporting all week, the SSB workers want financial compensation for the 10 month uniform delay. The workers protested twice this week during their lunch break and staged a sickout yesterday afternoon at 3 to get that demand across. But in an interview on Monday, Chairman Doug Singh responded by saying that he does not agree with the workers' interpretation of the agreement on uniforms and that the management refuses to pay financial compensation. Today CWU president Audrey-Matura Shepherd and 2 SSB workers held a press conference to discuss this issue. Deputy Union Representative Ella Waight began by saying that Chairman Singh changed his interpretation on them and that they were paid compensation in the past for late uniforms under his management.

Ella Waight, Deputy Union Rep.
"It is strange that all of a sudden he interprets it differently, because he signed the CBA are currently using. He is the one who signed the CBA. So the last payment that was made, the board approved it under his chairmanship. How come he is interpreting it another way. The uniform was first at 12 months. When we went to the previous negotiations, they said let's take it to 18 months because the quality is a little better, because it's from out of the country. We do not decide where the uniforms are made. The board does that. They sent it out of the country 18 months. But if the uniforms do not reach when that time is expired, we have to buy clothing. Because the organization requires we wear professional clothing. We have a reputation to uphold at Social Security. We are supposed to be customer service oriented, we need to look proper. So when uniforms expired, the day after we are supposed to be compensated with a clothing allowance. Because the uniforms, we had done fitting and everything was sent out of the country to be done, the company does not know when the uniforms would arrive. So they cannot pay you this clothing allowance of $450 the very next day when the previous ones expires, because they don't know when it will come. It might come before the year ends. So we do not demand or ask for that payment then. We agreed we will wait until the uniforms come, as in the past and then they would calculate how much months we were without uniform and they would provide us an amount prorated for that amount. We agreed to that in good faith. That wording is not specifically in our CBA, but it's in our MOE that is signed behind it where it says "as per the CBA, the previous payment was made"

On the issue of who is to blame for the lateness of the uniforms, both sides also differ. Chairman Singh told us that the management will not take the full blame because the union members themselves are on the committee in charge of the uniforms. Well, Deputy Union Rep. Waight said they do not have any control over when the uniforms arrive and they simply attend meetings and make suggestions.

Doug Singh, Chairman, Social Security Board
"Why would you then expect the institution to pay more because you were late, when in fact the lateness is directly attributable to your committee of 5 which includes 3 union representatives not bringing it on time and I don't see why you would reasonably say that the fund should pay you more because we were late. That is saying that compensate me for coming to work late."

Ella Waight, Deputy Union Rep.
"As in any organization, no member or no officer from an organization cannot call a meeting. We are there to do the work of the company. Anything besides our job, the management, in this case the HR manager calls, dictates when these meetings are held. We do not do that. So the timeframe depends on them when meetings are called... when the company comes in to do these things. We just attend and give suggestions of what our members feel the color should be, the design etc. That's all the input we have into it."

Another issue that was addressed is the pension increase under the employee pension program - Singh explained that based on his calculation it is 16% but the union says - not so!

Doug Singh, Chairman, Social Security Board
"The release deals with about 3 main areas if my memory serves me correctly and one of them deals with them saying that I misrepresented a number of things they said relative to the request by the pension fund for an increase in pension on behalf of the staff. I stated that it was about 16% increase and they said first of all that that's wrong and secondly that has nothing to do with any benefit program under the collective bargaining agreement. There is a line item under the collective bargaining agreement that says that pension should be paid for as provided in the pension act. So it is listed in the collective bargaining agreement and recognized as a benefit. Secondly, the funds that go to pay pensions, a separate pension from Social Security pension, so it's a second pension to employees comes out of contributors' funds. Everything that the employees benefit from comes from the contributors' fund. So you can't treat these things on isolation. So that is really a distraction as far as that comment is concerned. The fund pays for any pension and any increase in such pension would mean an increase in contribution to the pension fund."

"Secondly, they said that the amount wasn't 16%. Well I didn't go to law school, but I was pretty good in math in school and I have the document in front of me from the trustees of the pension fund where it says "the trustees agree to increase the annual pension rate from 1.2% of whatever the base it, to 1.4%." That's a .2% increase. That .2% over a base of 1.2 calculates to 16%."

Lenora Flowers, Supervisor, Legal Dept. - SSB
"The recommendation was for an increase to pensioners and there are 5 pensioners existing at this current day. You become a pensioner when you finish working and you come off, then you get pension from the pension fund. People would go on the pension fund when they turned 60. Some people would go in 6, 7, 8 years. At this current time we have 5 pensioners who would have benefited and it's not at 16%. It's prorated. We don't even have that figure, but the committee told us it's not 16%."

A lot of back and forth right? Well, Singh also told us that he hopes that they can both at least agree on the point that the fund is there for the beneficiaries and that they are the priority - not employee uniform allowances. But, it does not seem that they agree on that either - today President Matura - Shepherd told us that it is simply unfair that Chairman Singh would make such a comment.

Doug Singh, Chairman, Social Security Board
"The priority for the fund is for the beneficiaries. That is a fundamental principle that we have to agree on. If it wasn't for that, you would have no employees managing the fund and so if you put it in its proper perspective and that's what we are charged with a board of director. That's what they are charged with as administrators of the fund."

Audrey Matura Shephard, President - CWU
"I don't think what he is doing is fair, because what he is trying to say is then pity the members who contribute to Social Security Board against the employees. As though the employees are the ones who make decision, as to how many people who go to Social Security Board don't get certain benefits, as to the limited benefits under the law. The employees can't change the law. It is the board that make recommendation to the parliamentarians as to any increase/decrease - anything. It is the board that decides how much tens of millions of dollars they will allow the government to use for BEL and BTL. It is the board in cahoots with the government that decides how to siphon money. Especially around elections, to make certain projects occur. It is the board that decides who is the investor that gets money. It is the board that decides how certain transaction goes that benefits certain people within the board though their companies and so. We will reveal a lot of these things and throw it out there to warn the chairman careful what you say because you have skeletons in your closet."

The workers told us that the uniform issue is only one of many issues that the workers have been facing at SSB and that they plan to continue industrial action until their demands are met.

Channel 7


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