Activity Resumes but Contentious Issues Remain
The standstill at the Port of Belize Limited came to an end this morning. Stevedores reported back to work at eight a.m., but the issues that led to the dispute between the stevedores and the port have yet to be resolved. Negotiations continue between both parties and behind closed doors. Still, the weeks ahead are very crucial for the port's operations as all stakeholders are now scrambling to make up for lost time and lost revenue. News Five Paul Lopez reports.
Paul Lopez, Reporting
A truck leaving the pier at the Port of Belize this morning came as a good sign to businesses across the country. Finally, the standstill has come to an end and stevedores are back to work. Concerns were growing among stakeholders in the shipping industry and import/export sectors over the impasse between the stevedores and their employers at the Port of Belize Limited. It lasted for eight days, before coming to an end today. It is welcome news for companies like ASR/BSI that exports over four hundred thousand dollars worth of direct consumption sugar through the port weekly. Even though work has resumed, the dead stop at the port will still have lasting implications as Ruy Martinez, Regional Commercial Director, at ASR/BSI told us earlier this week.
Ruy Martinez, Regional Commercial Director, at A.S.R./B.S.I.
"Let's say the strike cuts off tomorrow and over the weekend. There is not enough empty containers, because no vessels have come in. And, if the vessels does come in and discharge those loaded containers, it will take a week or two for the costumers to discharge those containers, unload their imports. It will take maybe a couple of weeks for those empty containers to be given into our possession and enough time for us to load those containers with exports of sugar. So, it is not that simple as, the vessel start coming in today, the sugar starts exporting. It is every single week it is going to be delay, a delay, and you end up having a sugar export delay of two to three weeks."
Already experiencing a backlog on the import of its products, Belizean Queen Freight Services asked its customers to be patient, noting quote, "Due to the backlog, and the uncertainty as to the order of release, we are asking for patience and understanding�", end quote. Even with the return to work, the Port of Belize is preparing to file a lawsuit against the Christian Workers Union for the large sums of money it says was lost during the impasse, referring to the strike action as illegal. This morning, Andy Lane, C.E.O. at the Port of Belize told of via text, quote, "For those who break the law, consequences must always exist. Our customers and us have suffered significant economic losses due to the illegal strike. This will be addressed through established protocols", end quote. C.E.O. Lane, in an interview last week, told us similar words to the same effect.
Andy Lane, C.E.O., Port of Belize Limited
"There is a tribunal in progress which the union continuously tries to disrupt and walk away from, or simply don't turn up, and that where that discussion should be had. A strike in the middle of this tribunal is illegal.
This is not the stevedores fault; this is not the stevedores doing. This is the creation of the Christian Workers Union and they have to take full responsibility for now what would be a drying up of inbound supply chain, the failure to ship Belizean Sugar's export cargo. This will have ramification in the community, ramifications for Belize's competiveness in the global environment. What is going on here is nothing short of lunacy."
On Thursday, the Essential Services Tribunal made its ruling, declaring that the parties begin negotiations for payment under the Redundancy Package as agreed on the sixth of March 2020. The letter being referred to here was signed on the sixth of March 2020, by former C.E.O. at the Port of Belize Arturo Vasquez, C.W.U. President Evan Hyde and former Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour, Carla Barnett. In the letter, all three parties agreed that if ASR/BSI makes a decision to permanently move its shipping of bulk sugar to Big Creek, within sixty days a fleshed out agreement on the Redundancy Package would be signed. The Christian Workers Union is satisfied with the Tribunal's ruling. Today they called on P.B.L. to, "comply with the ruling and engage with us on the outstanding matters that could be potential stumbling blocks in our relationships". So, stevedores are back to their job of loading and unloading of cargo from ships. The Port of Belize is back to delivering its services to its customers. And, the conflicting parties are back in negotiations.