The workers of Belize Aquaculture Ltd. are crying foul. They claim that their employer is trying to pull fast one on them and they will not be taken advantage of. Yesterday they alerted our newsroom to a situation that blew up at the shrimp farm. We aired a short portion of the interviews yesterday (our journalist came back late into the evening), but tonight we give you the full story on why something smells fishy at the farm. Jesse Mendoza filed the following report.

Reporter JESSE MENDOZA:

Belize Aquaculture Limited, or BAL as the shrimp company is known, is back up and running.  The company had not been in operation since 2010, but in January of this year, after obtaining new investors, BAL started processing under a new joint venture agreement with the Bowen Group of Companies.  The company says they currently employ five hundred persons, one hundred and twenty of which work at the hatchery and farm, while the remaining work on the processing side.  It's been only four months into harvesting operation, but now 70 workers are at odds with BAL.  We traveled south to the company's headquarters on the Placencia Road, where we observed some 70 workers outside the premises in the pouring rain. Delsey Williams, one of the disgruntled employees, spoke with us first.

BEL employee DELSEY WILLIAMS:
We have to stay in one position for that whole nine hours.  The majority of the time we don't have have breaks.  The only break we have is at lunchtime. And we don't get to use the bathroom.  We don't get to go and drink water.  If we're sick, we can't call in sick, because then we loose.  We won't get that day, or we won't make any money at all. Now they are telling us we have to do one hundred and twenty pounds deveining, and sixty pounds to peal and devein.
I think it's really under pressure for us, because sometimes when we go there they have to go and thaw out the shrimp. The shrimp is not fresh shrimp.Some days we have fresh shrimp that we can just go and peal.  But the most pressure is that not all of us can do the pealing, because a lot of us have experience in different areas.


Reporter JESSE MENDOZA:
The group of women walked off the BAL compound after a heated Monday morning with the Production Manager, Mr Caleb Wade, who informed them of the change from minimum wage hourly rate to the new contract based on quotas.  According to David Griffeth, General Manager of BAL, there only requesting from the workers output that is regional standard. It is a goal, he says, that the women can do.

BAL General Manager DAVID GRIFFETH:
The regional standards are about seven and a half pounds per hour, per person.  That's obviously with people who have been doing it for a few years and have experience.  In Belize we're probably averaging about half of that, maybe a little bit more than half that. But the grade manages because people don't have the experience yet.  They're learning as they go. And that's to be expected,  So over the past couple of months that we've been doing the pealing, we have been paying people on an hourly rate, while they learn how to peal.

{For the full story, watch the video clip.}

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