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Nov 2, 2015

A Strike by Stevedores is Called Off

At news time, a strike has been called off at the Port of Belize and an agreement has been reached between the Port and stevedores. The update is that stevedores have signed off on a retirement plan as well as increases in salaries and overtime. The strike started on Friday night when the stevedores refused to work a ship and here is where Isani Cayetano picked up the weekend events.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Since the beginning of the weekend, there has been turbulence at the Port of Belize where a gang of stevedores effected an impromptu strike during the overnight shift on Friday.  The spontaneous industrial action, led by several discontented dockworkers, threatened to bring operations onboard the Caribe Mariner to a screeching halt, an outcome which would have proven costly to all parties involved.

 

Arturo ‘Tux’ Vasquez

Arturo ‘Tux’ Vasquez, Receiver C.E.O., Port of Belize Ltd.

“I had gotten a call late Friday night to say that the gang was refusing to work.  I don’t think it was the right time then to come in to negotiate with the gang so we decided to cease operations at one o’clock that morning and agreed then with the union that we would meet at nine on Saturday morning to, perhaps, try to resolve this matter.  At that point I honestly was not sure of what the reason was.”

 

There are several reasons why waterfront workers are disgruntled, including a demand to endorse a contract with PBL pertaining to retirement funds.  These issues stem from the fact that a Collective Bargaining Agreement is in the offing, details of which remain to be ironed out.

 

Arturo ‘Tux’ Vasquez

“The gang at the time wanted us to sign off on the pension agreement.  That we could not do.  So the day continued and obviously the gang did not agree to go back to work unless the pension was agreed on and we got to a point where the union decided that they had tried as best as they can with Gang Number Six.  And, again, I was not in a position to sign on that pension and the union president and the members of that team were also in agreement that we could not just sign on a pension before discussing.”

 

While management, stevedores and their representative body, the Christian Workers Union, would attempt to resolve the matter, albeit unsuccessfully, the container ship idled at the quay.  At the last minute, under pressure from the shipping agent in Florida, a decision had to be made whether cargo was to be unloaded in Belize City or Big Creek.  The result has effectively divided the union.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, President, Christian Workers Union

“Sometime in the night, while we were waiting for written proposals from the port, the port went behind our back and it seems that under duress certain men signed off on an agreement which we say is not legally binding because the official bargaining unit and legal bargaining unit of the workers is the CWU, not any gang.  And so, clearly there has been a fight within and the rest of the stevedores are saying that they do not agree with that agreement, that’s no what they want.”

 

Party to that agreement, though not in signature, is Raymond Rivers.  He says that stevedores are caught in a love/hate situation between the port and the union.

 

Raymond Rivers

Raymond Rivers, Stevedore

“We come to Mr. Tux and tell ahn we wahn something concrete because you memba we mi deh ya eena September and Audrey sehe ih mi wahn done the CBA eena one week but I noh know weh di go one between Mr. Tux and Mrs. Audrey, if dehn hate each other or if dehn love each other, but we stuck right between da hate thing deh so.  Now we come, lock down di boat Friday ten o’clock and dis piece ah paper ya so da weh we mi had to force Mr. Tux fi sign fi di pension fund.  Dis di sehe he wahn give we twelve hundred dollars a year and we fi put three hundred dollars towards the pension fund.  But di first one, wahn brother was getting eighty dollars a year.  He came up to the pier head and he come beg us and ask us please work back di ship.  So we hold him and we mek ih sign dis paper ya so fi we.”

 

The matter, according to Matura-Shepherd, hinges around a communiqué sent to the Christian Workers Union that was taken out of context by its membership.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“One of the things that became offensive is that the email that Mister Tux sent, the stevedores read it to me like he is saying that they are not his priority and therefore they said that they will get him to the table. And unfortunately the only thing they can do is strike. So it is not that there was supposed to be a meeting and we didn’t have any meeting. The meeting that we proposed, they never agreed to it. And the framework agreement says that if we propose a meeting and you don’t agree to it, you have to counter propose a meeting. If we can’t agree to it, then we propose the final meeting and when we propose the final meeting that has to be the meeting. There is a framework agreement that clearly sets out how we should do things and the very reason we are doing that is to avoid any chaos and commotion and any kind of improper action on either side of the fence.”

 

That meeting was held late into this evening.  The results of which are yet to be shared with the media. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

 

As we said, the stevedores are back on the job and have reached agreement with the Port of Belize. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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