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Apr 29, 2005

Unions rethink strategies

Tonight the future of the strike launched by Belize’s labour movement appears to be on shaky ground as the unions stayed uncharacteristically quiet today, holding a series of closed-door strategy meetings, presumably to plan their next move. But News Five understands that there are currently no public protests or demonstrations in the pipeline for the weekend.

And, in a strange about-face, what is in the pipes is water, as one of the Trade Union Congress’s strongest members, the Belize Water Services Workers Union, has called off their walkout early, with a return to full service a half-day ahead of schedule. President of the B.W.S.W.U., Russell Young declined to offer details of that decision, saying only that it was jointly agreed to between the union and management. Belize Water Services Public Relations Officer Haydon Brown told News Five that it was the union that approached management about calling off the strike, and while no reasons were given, the company is glad to have their employees working and the system back up and running.

Meanwhile, things at Belize Electricity Limited aren’t looking bright at all. The electricity company is reporting that the series of outages caused by sabotage to its lines, has also resulted in damage to the gas turbine facility at mile eight. With that plant under repair, B.E.L. is left to rely on purchases from Mexico and its own aging diesels. Even so, the company is only able to supply ninety percent of the demand, forcing B.E.L. to schedule emergency outages countrywide. Company officials tell News Five the blackouts can last anywhere from a half hour to two hours and every attempt is being made to schedule them during daylight hours. Those rolling blackouts began at ten this morning and according to B.E.L. will have to continue for an unspecified period of time. B.E.L. has imported technical specialists from General Electric to help the local team restore the gas turbine system as soon as possible.

But as far as utilities are concerned, the good news is that the phones are working, and while some offices, like the Albert Cattouse and Esquivel buildings remained closed today, customers were able to pay their bills at Church Street and district offices.

The Public Service Union leaders continue to maintain that small numbers are not indicative of the overall support from its members.

As for status of the nation’s schools, this afternoon President of the Belize National Teachers Union, Anthony Fuentes, told News Five that meetings continued today with sister unions of the N.T.U.C.B. Another B.N.T.U. council of management meeting is being planned in Belize City tomorrow, Saturday, to bring branch presidents up to date on the status of the strike. Fuentes has confirmed to our newsroom that the B.N.T.U. is currently seeking legal advice regarding those teachers whose paycheques were docked after they responded to the union’s call for a walkout of the classroom on Tuesday.

…And in news just in, late this evening the Belize National Teachers Union sent a letter to the Chief Education Officer Maud Hyde indicating that they are ?calling a halt? to the strike action initiated on April twenty-sixth, pending further consultation from their council and National Trade Union Congress of Belize. But lest you think the strike action is over, union leaders that News Five conferred with before news time indicated that the letter was sent on the advice of legal counsel and is largely procedural to prevent any teachers from having their pay docked over the long weekend. They say decisions will be made at the Saturday meeting and members will be advised accordingly regarding any recommencement of strike action on Tuesday.

So as Belizeans prepare to celebrate the long Labour Day weekend, everyone will be watching and waiting to see what will happen next week.

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