When asked about the rumors of forced labor, he
further clarified that in a National State of Emergency, the Emergency Act is
referenced as to how the laws and rights of workers change. Because of this Act,
NEMO is within its rights to put people to work as long as they are paid at
least minimum wages. He sympathized with the hard decisions NEMO was forced to
make as a result. He agreed that if there were examples of forced labor on the
island, it was mainly because there were individuals who refused to work in the
recovery efforts and in turn hampered the efforts of others. Now that the state
of emergency has been lifted, this Act does not apply.
When questioned regarding the aid of the Belize Defense Force (BDF), he stated
that they are to follow orders given them, and in the first week, most of them
were assigned to relief efforts. This included loading and unloading supplies
and assisting Human Development workers with distribution of food and materials.
Others were ordered to supervise workers doing clean up. To dispel the rumor of
forced labor at gunpoint, he explained that many of the BDF carry guns as their
mission is to secure property and protect lives. This could be misinterpreted in
someone's recollection of events to appear that the BDF were holding workers at
gunpoint, but that is not true.
Regarding child labor,
Mr. Trujeque said this was his favorite story from San Pedro. He said the
children were the most inspiring little people. Approximately a dozen showed up
at the Town Hall immediately and asked if Town Council had anything for them to
do. These children signed the job sheet, just like the adults, and were given
appropriate tasks with no heavy lifting, such as sorting tools and small clean
up jobs. The labor officer told us that, unlike some adults, the children would
return to him as soon as they finished one task and ask for another. He
commented on how they set an example for others and were paid wages for their
labor as well.
Addressing the issue of jobs on the island,
Mr. Trujeque said that many employee's regular jobs are not available at this
time. Employers have every right to ask a worker to do a job they did not
previously perform, paying minimum wage if needed, until their regular job is
available. Following the recovery period, and once the employee's job is
reinstated, the usual wages must be paid. Employers are not obligated to pay an
employee unless they work.
requiring more information on these issues, the Labor Department can be
contacted at 02-74023/27. November visits are scheduled for Ambergris Caye
during the second week of the month, Wednesday to Friday at the Town Hall and
will continue every other month. Mr. Trujeque concluded if anyone feels they
have a labor issue, they should not hesitate to contact a labor