B.E.L. Union Protest firing of workers; C.E.O. must go
Signs that there is trouble between management and union members of the state owned Belize Electricity Limited, surfaced today. A representative number of members of the Belize Electricity Workers Union staged a protest at mid-day in front of the corporate offices of the utility company on the Northern Highway. The BEWU president read a list of grievances including the delay in bonus payments and called for a change at the very top. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
About three dozen Belize Energy Workers Union members demonstrated at the Belize Electricity Limited headquarters during their lunch hour. It was a small showing of problems that have sparked a short between employees and management. The BEWU president read a list of demands.
Marvin Mora, President, Belize Energy Workers Union
“The three employees who were terminated and dismissed without following due process be reinstated immediately to their original post. The second one; that all apprentice linesmen who have completed their four years with the company—at which time their initial four years contract expired—be made permanent immediately regardless of whether or not they have completed the entire linemen training since the workers have already complied with their obligations as stipulated within said contract. Third one; that the Union decision to change its representative within the pension committee be made effective immediately. Fourth one; that the position of plant operator two—assigned to B.E.L.’s gas turbine generating unit—remain and not be made redundant as expressed on a letter from management to the Union dated twentieth April 2012 in the best interest of the customers, the company and the employees. Fifth; that the pending bonus for 2008, 2009, 2010—twenty-five percent each respectively—be paid forthwith to the employees of B.E.L.”
One demand includes the dismissal of the government appointed CEO Jeffery Locke.
“The C.E.O. stops working at B.E.L. in the best interest of the company, the employees and its customers as well.”
“Would you be willing to compromise to some of those demands if some are met? Is the removal of Jeffery Locke a mandatory part of this demand?”
“Brother man, our people are already being sent home. What we’re saying is, reinstate our workers. Let us talk; let us talk on the other issues—the bonus and the other issues that are pending—let us talk on those, but send our people back to their original post. That’s all we are saying and then we can talk. And then if the Union sees it not necessary to continue to ask that the C.E.O. stops working at B.E.L. then we back off. But at the end of the day; that is the position of the union right now.”
These workers are only the frontline of support that branches across the country.
“In terms of current presence here at this picketing, it is obvious that we only have a small minority of the entire group. However, there are several things: one is geographic placement where the whole employment of B.E.L. is spread across the entire nation of Belize. So we have workers in Corozal, Orange Walk who are all in full support of the Union. Everybody that you see here are people that can take their lunch break. We have people who are working up there in dispatch who are also in support with the Union; we have people elsewhere that are in very key essential post that they can’t leave.”
Jules Vasquez, 7 News
“The three employees; what is the circumstance of their terminations?”
“Well they vary. As a matter of fact, pointing to the key issues within those terminations is the fact that we have not received any single detail of what the specific accusation against these brothers and we have not received any single shred of evidence or the documentation that led to those terminations—none at all.”
“Is there any chance that these workers were terminated because they had been under influence?”
“Well if there is that chance, the Union does not know anything about it because we were not served any documentation or proof of that. The company has invested four years—in the case of the linesmen–.four years of very expensive training for these guys and then to all turn around for one simple mistake send then out home. To us that makes no sense.”
Dorla Staine, General Secretary, BEWU
“One of the key points for us being here also is for our four brothers at the gas turbine plant, who the management has decided that within one year, their post would be redundant. For the union that is a major concern not only for them as employees, but for the general public as well. The gas turbine is the black start engine. In case of emergency that is the engine they look to; to go and get up the system quickly. How could management even think of a decision like that? Which management with responsibility will do that? We asked them—we were in a meeting Friday gone—are you shutting down the gas turbine? They said no, we are not. Then how could you ask about terminating the guys? Who will run the machine when they go? They say the machine will be manned from the center here. We have about two of the operators here. They can tell you that is not happening up to this point. From in the 1990s that plant was supposed to run remotely; it is not happening. So I don’t know if people are taking the operations of this company seriously.”
The General Secretary of the Union says that relations never got this bad under Lynn Young’s administration.
“The management under the previous administration have never said that they would send those people home. They were looking at other things maybe to say if in idle time maybe they could do a little something else. It has never said to the Union that the gas turbine will be closed down and these operators will go home. This is the first we hear of it and last week they said one year from now. And so the question to ask this company is: what will you do when you send the operators home? And I want to add that the gas turbine cannot carry this nation but it is an important aspect of the whole machinery; it makes everything else come back.”
“When the government took over, the employees and the Union was under the impression that we would have a better industrial relations with the new management or the new directive. But that was not the case. As a matter of fact, they just came and fit in. And the Union has many issues that could easily solve were the management to be flexible. But the management of the company has sought not to be flexible. And that has put us in that position today. It’s not that we are being insensitive. We have been as sensitive as possible to the customers’ needs. We understand one hundred and fifty of the workers are the most essential workers in this country because they deal with the most essential utility.”
How seriously does the union take their list of demands? The union’s vice president says that industrial action in the form of brown outs, is a strong possibility.
Sean Nicholas, Vice President, Belize Energy Workers Union
“The union could have planned something drastic for today. However, we unlike management have consumers at heart. We have a track record. We are the first union in Belize who opposed the company they work for, for an increase. Good faith; these people don’t know the meaning of good faith. We are a responsible union who will not put the country at risk without due process. Today is just the start. We are not ruling out if we have to take the power out; we are not ruling that out. However we know the situation with the crime present in the city. We could have went in a different direction today, however, the consumers we have at heart, at all times.”
“Even though your numbers are low out here today, is there a follow up? What is the next step because the government is saying listen this is only a few dozen people that they can see?”
“Trust me, these few dozen people are a few dozen of the most essential workers. We intend to take this all the way through and we know that our people behind us. We don’t want to go down that road, but the company does not leave us any other way out. So if it does happen, the union has already a plan and we have established a way forward. This is not finished until our plans are met.”
And though they have the consumer at heart at all times, does the B.E.L. board hold their demands with the same regard? Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.
This evening, the company sent out a release saying that the union did not request a meeting with management prior to the demonstration so it is unaware what triggered the protest. According to B.E.L., the union president did not accept an invitation to a meeting and that since 2011 the BEWU has chosen not to sit at the negotiating table. The release ends by saying that the company is committed to open dialogue to resolve concerns.
BEL Statement Regarding BEWU Demonstration
Earlier today, approximately 30 employees of the Belize Energy Workers Union (BEWU) staged a public demonstration in front of the headquarters of Belize Electricity Limited (BEL).
BEL advises that prior to this course of action, the BEWU Executive did not provide Management with any communication requesting a meeting aimed at discussing any concerns of the Union. Management was therefore unaware of what triggered the public demonstration.
In a letter this morning, Management invited the Union Executives to a meeting to discuss their concerns instead of their planned course of action. Unfortunately, the President of the Union refused to accept the letter citing that he would do so after the demonstration.
Since 2011, Management has also been inviting the BEWU Executive to commence long overdue union negotiations. The Union has chosen not to come to the table.
BEL’s Management is disappointed in the course of action chosen by the BEWU today. Management assures employees and the public that it remains committed to sharing its plans with staff, engaging in open dialogue and operating in an environment of trust and transparency. Management is ready and willing to dialogue with the Union in order to resolve concerns in the interest of all stakeholders as the Company works to keep the lights on, meet its financial obligations and take care of its people.