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Jul 21, 2015

Day 2 of B.E.W.U. Protest, B.E.L. Addresses Breakdown in Collective Bargaining

Day two of protests took place today during the lunch hour by members of the Belize Energy Workers Union employed at the government controlled Belize Electricity Company. The final round is planned for Wednesday as workers protests the utility company over salary increases. In the fiscal year 2014, B.E.L. made a whopping thirty-six million dollars in profits of which twenty-two million dollars go back to shareholders. The employees say they want a two percent raise staggered over a four-year period, but when they had accepted a package, the B.E.L. Board suddenly balked. News Five’s Isani Cayetano speaks to both sides in the dispute.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A second day of peaceful protest was staged during the lunch hour today, as employees of Belize Electricity Limited, those belonging to the Belize Energy Workers Union, marched in front of B.E.L.’s headquarters.  The reason for industrial action follows a breakdown in collective bargaining between the union and the principals of the company regarding a proposed salary adjustment.  B.E.L.’s public relations manager is Vonetta Burrell.

 

Vonetta Burrell

Vonetta Burrell, Public Relations Manager, B.E.L.

“Since November fourth, 2014, the management negotiating team of B.E.L. along with the Belize Energy Workers Union have been in negotiations for a revised partnership collective agreement.  These negotiations have been ongoing and at June twenty-sixth the negotiations entered into mediation by the Labor Commissioner.  At this point B.E.L. is hopeful that we can reach a conclusion to these negotiations because what we really want is for a reasonable agreement by both parties that would benefit all stakeholders involved.”

 

The discussions, according to BEWU President Marvin Mora, included extra employee compensation, as well as a proposal to extend paternity leave.  Those benefits however, are reportedly to the detriment of incoming employees.

 

Marvin Mora

Marvin Mora, President, Belize Energy Workers Union

“We were very close in terms of the total cost of labor because management was proposing something around five percent and we were at thirteen percent of the total cost of labor.  That included benefits and everything you know, it’s not just salaries.  But we only, basically we’re only requesting the salary portion of it and it was management who brought other things to include into it but all of these were conditional benefits.  For example they wanted to increase the paternity leave from two to three more days so you’d have five days in total and that would cost the company x amount of dollars and so forth.  So in reality we’re not that far apart.  The only problem is that we took their proposal and we said we wanted an across the board increase and they said well they want conditions with those, which we find utterly unfair because we are going to be disenfranchising not only the employees who are already here but those who will be coming in.”

 

Vonetta Burrell

“The company realized that when a sickout was staged that the union had used this loophole to the detriment or the potential detriment of the service that we provide to our customers.  When we had these employees call in sick it could have interrupted our services to customers and that is our paramount obligation, to make sure that we provide service.  We are an essential service and we would not want to jeopardize that service to our customers.  So we are just looking to close that loophole by requiring that if an employee is reporting to work sick that that report is accompanied by a medical certificate.”

 

The Belize Energy Workers Union executive also maintains that employees of B.E.L. have not received any wage increases since 2010.  Burrell, on the other hand, told News Five today that employees continue to be rewarded for their efforts in improving the company’s profitability.

 

Vonetta Burrell

“The way forward is that B.E.L. always strives to ensure that our decisions are to the benefit of our stakeholders.  Over the past four years, even when our company was losing money, our employees have been compensated.  They have been rewarded for their efforts to bring back the company on a strong footing.  So, since 2011 employees have been receiving about twenty percent average increase, annual bonuses of about six percent, a lump sum payment was made in 2011 and a lump sum payment was made in 2013.  What we are looking for is to continue to reward our employees for their efforts and that is why the company is offering twenty-nine percent increase over the next four years.”

 

The demands being made by the BEWU are set against the backdrop of a successful 2014 fiscal year at the end of which B.E.L. realized a profit north of thirty million dollars.

 

Marvin Mora

“The company has made thirty-six million dollars.  If you divide that into three hundred and sixty-five days a year you will get around a hundred and twenty something thousand dollars net profit every single day that these very same people here make happen for this company.  So I don’t believe we are asking for anything unfair.”

 

A majority of those revenues is going back to B.E.L.’s customers.

 

Vonetta Burrell

“As was reported following our AGM this year, in 2014 the company made a profit of thirty-six million dollars.  Twenty-two million dollars out of that thirty-six is what we owe to customers as stipulated by our regulator, the PUC.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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