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#510048 - 12/19/15 11:07 AM GOB Changes Labour Law To Stick It To Stevedores
Marty Offline
Chamber Applauds

The shutdown at the Port of Belize last week cost importers tens of thousands of dollars in time, inventory and business lost. Well now, government has acted to make sure it doesn't happen again. The Minister of Labour today signed a statutory instrument amending the section of the law that deals with settlement of disputes in Essential Services. The amended law will now deal with Port Services specifically. A release from the government says that the effect of this is to make it so that Port Services would be required to give 21 days notice before any industrial action can be taken. According to the release, this would, quote, "allow for early intervention by government into trade disputes and reduce the likelihood of lockout or strike."

President of the Christian Workers Union Audrey Matura Shepherd told us, quote, "sadly we learnt about the news this afternoon and so stevedores are being consulted for a response this Monday."

And while that's what Labour had to say - Capital's tune was very different. The Chamber of Commerce sent out a release this evening, quote, "congratulating Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his administration on the…signing of the Statutory Instrument." It adds that the Chamber has made representation through the Labour Advisory Board to include Port Services as an essential service. IT concludes, quote, "This SI was necessary and is much appreciated by the private sector."

We should note that the President of the Chamber is also the CEO of the Port of Belize.

Channel 7

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#510097 - 12/22/15 10:42 AM Re: GOB Changes Labour Law To Stick It To Stevedores [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Stevedores Say GOB Gave Them A Raw Deal

As we told you on Friday, the Minister of Labour signed a statutory instrument making port workers a part of the Essential Services who cannot strike without notice. Well, today the Christian Workers Union came out swinging; it says the new Statutory Instrument is unfair.

The law makes it so that stevedores are required to give 21 days notice before taking any industrial action. Government says this allows for a more productive and peaceful approach to disputes between the stevedores and management. But while the government believes this decision will be more effective in settling grievances, president of the CWU Audrey Matura Shepherd says it undermines their negotiation, and will only further infuriate stevedores and force them to rebel.

A release issued this morning says quote, "once again government has decided to take the side of big people against working Belizeans."

It adds that the Port of Belize has shown utmost bad faith and is now joined by the Government of Belize.

Today at a press conference Shepherd asked the government to reconsider this decision very carefully.

Audrey Matura Shepherd, President - CWU
"I think after consultations with our stevedores and seeking direction, they feel that they have gotten the "royal Christmas bukut" from the government and it is unfortunate that that is the kind of gift that the government has to give to our poorer workers. CWU negotiates for quite a few entities and I must say they stevedores fall in the group with the least benefits, the poorer category and I do nothing to put them down. They just have the less economic power and at the same time they are also the ones who unfortunately a lot of them fall under the category of the less academically qualified."

"So it in unfortunate that they would pick on the seemingly weakest set to pass such a legislation and to do it without consultation, without advise, without even asking a meeting and to hear then that Mr. Tux Vasquez from Port of Belize boast that the Chamber of Commerce had already requested such a legislation. If the government did that move, because they to bring about balance, just send something else and all the positive things - it's very simple what they have to do. 1) They have to learn and understand why since 2004, long before my time, Port of Belize has frustrated every attempt by the union to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the stevedores. They need to get to the bottom of that. That's one. 2) Port of Belize is in receivership they say and they don't have money, but they refuse to open their books. I can tell you, from working with the issue from BSI/ASR, according to the financials given to cane farmers, 2.4 million dollars in 2015 according to what BSI has issued was paid to the Port of Belize for stevedoring alone. That is just to empty sugar barges. Let Port of Belize show us where that 2.4 million has gone. I can tell you for the whole year stevedores haven't even gotten a million dollars, not even half a million dollars, not even quarter million dollars. What our leaders need to understand is when you put a man against the wall and he have no way out. The only thing he will do is fight back. And I am concern that they will put stevedores in a desperate situation and an unfair situation - very unfair for them. And by passing this legislation making the unloading and uploading - although they didn't say stevedores, we know it's them they are attacking. By putting that in the law, what is so unjust about that is that all the other entities that are essential services, let's look at them; BEL, BTL, Social Security, BWS - when you look at the workers there who give us certain immediate right under the law, because they are essential services - their benefit package is worth it. Never mess with a mad man. A hungry, an angry man and a poor man. At some point they will break. Loyal to everything else will set be put aside - a natural instinct of survival will take over. Trust me. They are not happy."

Today's release adds, quote, "many stevedores remain in disbelief…because 90% of them are solid supporters of the ruling party."

Shepherd said the negotiations on the pension must continue regardless of this legislation and she hopes that a CBA will be finalized by next year.

Channel 7


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#510122 - 12/23/15 10:56 AM Re: GOB Changes Labour Law To Stick It To Stevedores [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Port CEO Says Stevedores Not The “Small Man”, Not Moneywise At Least

On Friday, government amended the labour law making it so that stevedoring is now an essential service. That means that under the law they can no longer spontaneously strike like they did a few weeks ago - crippling the Port of Belize in the process. Yesterday, the Christian Workers Union lashed out at GOB - saying it had sided with the big money interests against the small stevedores - especially notable since many of those stevedores are UDP supporters from their southside strongholds.

President of the CWU Audrey Matura Shepherd said her members had gotten, quote, "a royal Christmas bukkut." Well, not surprisingly, the Port of Belize had a very different take on that today. Port CEO Arturo Tux Vasquez said Matura went too far, and he responded today by going further than he's ever gone before: he told us how much stevedores make annually - and suggested that there's no reason they should be complaining:...

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize
"To be honest I actually had to sit and take notes, looking at the news to make sure that I cover everything because I think that perhaps this time the interviews have gone too far. I go to a quotation she said about poor workers with less benefits. On an average a stevedore works around 40-70 days for the year and earns approximately an average of $35,000 per annum. She then goes on to say stevedores haven't gotten a million dollars, not even half a million dollars nor a quarter million dollars for 2015. It's unfortunate that some people speak without proper information to be honest. I must say that. Christmas bonus alone for 2015 while they were on strike, the Port paid a total of $275,000 in Christmas bonus only to stevedores. Let's talk about salaries and allowance for 2015. Jules, this totals to 5.5 million dollars. I repeat that - 5.5 million dollars and if you look at 2014 and 2013, it would be around that too. I would like to make a comparison on an average company and see what their annual salaries are - total salaries paid - 5.5 million dollars paid. Again, remember, these workers only work for 40-70 days for the year."

"She refers to all entities that are essential services like BEL. BTL. Social Security, BWS where workers get immediate rights under the law. The traditional way that stevedores gang operates is exactly why they cannot compare themselves to full time employees. In our negotiations we have made that point several times. There are ways of giving the gangs rights under the law, but they will have to change the system of rotation. The current rotation is very much in the benefit financially especially and that is the reason why they want to hold on to that system. They will work a ship until it's finished. There is a big paycheck and they return a month or two later on. That's by choice. We would like to provide full time employment, system way they would qualify for immediate rights under the law. But do they really want that? That is something I think I need to put directly to the head on the union today when I meet with her - if that is what you want, that is not very hard to move into a system where people are fully employed. They have to be at work every day like everybody else. They have to report to work, if not they have to provide a medical paper."

"Then she refers to according to the financials from BSI/ASR 2.4 million dollars was paid to stevedores alone and she wants to know where that went. Very simple Ms. Matura, a part of the 5.5 million dollars paid in salaries, strictly salaries. That was paid strictly to stevedores. And finally I would like to comment on the personal attacks that she has made to me over the last couple weeks - calls me a liar. I backtrack on my information. Now I am a two-headed snake in her press release. And that port has no intention of establishing a CBA. Again I repeat, the port has never removed itself from the negotiating table, never. I am happy to know that even though she thinks that I am not genuine, she is still prepared to come back to the table. And I am also interested in getting it done and for me I know that I have all good faith in completing the CBA and also have good faith in giving the stevedores the best that I can."

The Port and the CWU Negotiating team met this evening to continue discussions about their collective bargaining agreement. And, by any reckoning, the Port enters that negotiation empowered because with the new law, the stevedores have lost the leverage to spontaneously strike - which always tips things in their favour. And so now it would seemed to have tipped back in favour of the Port. Vasquez says that sounds about right to him:...

Jules Vasquez
"Do you feel that the ports' bargaining position is stronger because of this?"

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize
"What it allows me time to negotiate. It allows me time to reconsider my positions. I did not have that before. So I want to think that the last incident brought us very close to in my terms, a national issue and I think that perhaps what that triggered was the fact of people looking back and saying maybe on the government side that this is something that has to be done. I know that the Port Authority is under essential service. When the Port Authority was privatized to the Port of Belize, the services remained the same. So perhaps that is when it was an oversight. As it is right now the pilots are essential service and the security are an essential service. So if the pilot is essential service who needs to bring in the ship, why the offloading isn't an essential service? You will get the ship all the way to the dock and then you are unable to... So I am thinking maybe it was an oversight and I want to think that perhaps the last incidents may have triggered people to think and say this needs to be done."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you concerned about a possible blowback? Everyone wants harmonious industrial relations, but now that the stevedores are being sort of, they feel cornered by the government in concert with the Port of Belize. Are you concern that there may be a blowback?"

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize
"Yes, there is always that concern and again, listening to the president yesterday, she made a reference to the fact that while there are laws in place, she cannot speak for the stevedores. So, yes there is a concern."

"We have now establish contingencies in place. We don't know what to expect, but we certainly need to be prepared in the event that there is a spontaneous strike again. The Port is now in a position and I think we have all right that if you are not prepared to do the job, we have a right to get somebody else to do the job. She also refer to that in her comments and she actually made it sound as it is something that it is wrong to be done. But if there is a job to be done and you are not prepared to do it, I as the employer should be able to get that job done by someone else."

"Let's look at the history; chicken they don't want, the food they don't want - they strike. Water they don't want, they strike. The other day they strike because no advance payment was made to them. I mean these are things that maybe it's for the public interest. There is too many minor things that stevedores will strike for. While yes, they have a right to strike like anybody else. I've been reading comments on the news as well were people are saying don't you understand these people have a right to strike. Yes, you have a right to strike. But we are in negotiations and in negotiations you want to have proper dialogue, because negotiations is about give and take. But you can't expect me to be considering other alternatives if you have a gun to my head."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you willing to entertain that you might be seen that from a somewhat warp perspective, in so far as you are the king of the port, we can't hold a gun to your head. If we hold a gun, we will not even reach your ankle Mr. Tux. You can see how the stevedores might be saying it's you who have the economic power in this relationship. It's us who depend on you and it's you who stand to disenfranchise us of our only means of making a living. So in fact it's you who have the foot - you are about to crush us with your foot."

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize
"Well the stevedores are the ones that have always said that they are also essential to the port. I maybe the king of the port as you put it, but I certainly cannot survive without the stevedores."

Jules Vasquez
"If they don't want to load and off load because they feel the terms of work are unjust, they don't have the power to immobile the legal power. They don't have the power to lawfully immobilize the port as they did in the past. So then overall it works out in your favor - the legislation."

Arturo "Tux" Vasquez, CEO, Port of Belize
"It works out in favor of everybody who uses the port, not only for me. It works out for everybody who uses the port. If the port shuts down, everything shuts down. We saw a bit of it over the last couple of weeks. So I think the legislation is there not to benefit only me and my negotiations, it's there to benefit the users of the port; the importers, the exporters, the customers, people who are waiting for their stuff. We can't be held ransom just by a group of people. The country can't be held ransom as such."

Today's negotiation session on the collective bargaining agreement went on as planned, but president Matura - Shepherd didn't show up.

Channel 7


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