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Oct 27, 2004

Stevedores continue to protest new policies at Port

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It was part of the deal when the port was privatized but when that reality hit home this week, the city’s stevedores took to the streets, protesting what will be the new policies at the pier head. On one side, the workers say they are being robbed of their hard earned pay. But industry insiders tell News 5 this is just one way to make the unloading of ships more efficient as gangs are usually over paid and over manned. Today both sides continue to buck heads as News 5′s Patrick Jones found out this morning.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Disgruntled employees of the Belize Waterfront Employers Association continue to publicly voice their concern over the stalled negotiations with the Port of Belize. This time picketing the offices of Luke Espat.

With uniformed police standing guard outside, the picketers, numbering much less than Monday?s crowd, pounded the pavement on Calle al Mar.

Wayne Cattouse, Stevedore

?The man the take bread out a everybody mouth down here. Because what them the try do with this form that them the tell you ?bout, they the tell everybody could go sign that form. So that mean weh them the tell we, we automatically out a job. You understand me. If anybody go sign that form you out a job.?

Raymond McKay, Stevedore

?Luke Espat is trying to dictate to us what he wants.?

Shawayne Nuñez

?We want the Port Limited know that they have to respect the rights of stevedores. Because then if the prime insitert no agre withour rights or fuh we way how we want it go. We willing fuh work with the Port Authority. But they have to give we fuh we rights a fuh we union.?

Patrick Jones

? Why don?t you all go in to sign up to become employees of the Port??

Shawayne Nuñez

?Well really and truly I personally noh really agree with that sign thing. Because we noh know what wah be the after claps of that. Maybe the signing is just a fraud. We want to stick as stevedore sand work with fuh we union. But we just want the prime minister know that he can?t box food out of poor people mouth.?

Last week, Port of Belize Limited announced that it is accepting applications for post of stevedores; a move which both the workers and their union say caught them by surprise. While Port management says it?s purely a matter of fulfilling its obligation to provide its own services for the loading and off loading of vessels, General Secretary of the Christian Workers Union James McFoy its nothing more than a high handed take over, and an act of bad faith.

James McFoy, C.W.U. General Secretary

?They can have the stevedoring done. But then again if you read the law, the law is saying that they do not have, it doesn?t mention anything about the exclusive right.?

Patrick Jones

? But as owners and as employers don?t they have the right to hire who they want to do the stevedoring for them??

James McFoy

?Yes, we understand that. But you its two-fold. Because remember they are not the ones bringing in the ships. So again you are saying to us now that the employer does not have the right to say who they want to work their ships too. So that?s a two-fold thing so this thing supposed to be worked out between all the parties concerned.?

Patrick Jones

But the Port, the owners or the managers they are saying, they don?t want you to leave your union, they just want you to come and work with them now.?

Raymond McKay

?Well then sit down with the Union. Let them sit down with the Union. Let them sit down with the union and then we will work with them. We will work out something and we will work with them. Otherwise we noh wah work with them.?

Patrick Jones

?Is it just that you don?t want to work for the Port of Belize??

Raymond McKay

?No, it?s not that. We are willing to work with the Port of Belize, but through the Union. If it?s not through the Union, we?re not going to sign up nothing.?

McFoy says the union is still waiting for a response to proposals submitted nearly three weeks ago to settle the impasse between labour and management.

But communication between Caesar Ridge road and the C.W.U. appears tense as a press release from Port of Belize Limited sent out on Tuesday evening states that the company is in receipt of contract proposals from the Waterfront Employers Association and their representatives, but that none of the proposals were acceptable to the Port. McFoy says this is the first time he is hearing anything about the proposals and clearly not the way to reach an amicable solution.

James McFoy

?They are saying that with this press release. But they have not come officially to us. That?s what I?m saying to you. This is what we are saying. They just brought this press release out, what time, yesterday. And we have send out this proposal so long. So now because of the pressure being applied they are saying, to try and look clean, they are saying in other words that we are playing hard ball, which is not so. If they can show you a letter that they responded to us saying that Mr. Union come in and let us sit down and talk, then let them show you that.?

It appears that the new owners of the Port are trying to streamline operations in order to cut down on expenses. A move that the stevedores feel threatened that they will loose lucrative benefits that have grown accustomed to over the years. The Port of Belize press release notes that it has the legal obligation to provide services for the loading and off loading of vessels, services which the stevedores have been doing ?for the benefit of the shipping lines without any corresponding benefit to the Port.? At least one of the picketers made the admission today.

Wayne Cattouse

?Remain as is with the union, not with the port. Because if we go work with Port we wah get wah leeler wages. Weh you use to make, you noh wah make that again.?

Patrick Jones

?So you?re afraid of loosing your wages??

Wayne Cattouse

?Yes.?

James McFoy

?So it?s a matter of monopoly. They want to have everything under their control.?

Patrick Jones

?But the union will still be involved. They are not closing the doors to the unions.?

James McFoy

?Maybe at this point of time, maybe they are saying that to you now because maybe when we meet these people, it may be a different picture. They are saying that to you well then if they are saying they have no problem meeting with the union, why not have this meeting with the union. What is the hold up? Why not have this meeting that we send with out letter over three weeks ago? Why not respond to it??

Patrick Jones

?Finally, it sounds like you don?t trust these people at the Port.?

James McFoy

?Certainly not.?

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

The Port of Belize Limited will accept applications for stevedore work until November fifth. But in the meantime, the Belize Waterfront Employers Association say they will continue their picketing tomorrow at the Port of Belize Limited offices on Ceasar Ridge Road.

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