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Apr 5, 2017

Stevedores Want Strike; Port Says Nothing to Strike About

The last time stevedores at the Port of Belize Limited broke off from work was in December of 2015. They held the Port at their mercy for four days over negotiations on their pension plan, in which they asked for increases retroactive to 2004. The matter remains under negotiation, but a different group is bringing down pressure again on the Port and strike talk is being heard once more. This time, the militant Raymond Rivers is at the center, and he means to bring the Port to heel. But is there really anything to talk about? For the answer, Aaron Humes spoke to both sides and has the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Despite being classed as an essential service, a group of stevedores are threatening to walk off the job in three weeks’ time if their conditions are not met.

 

Raymond Rivers

Raymond Rivers, Stevedore

“We have to use the power of the men – the workforce. We drive the crane, we bust the ropes, we are at five, six, seven [foot in] height in container; we feed the country, and we need to be rewarded and respected for that. Mr. Tux [Vasquez], I spoke to him about fifteen minutes the other day, and this man told me that he will not change his heart, so [there’s] one way to deal with him. Losing money is the only way they understand the poor.”

 

Raymond Rivers says they have tried to keep things internal, but tired of inaction on the part of former president Audrey Matura-Shepherd and her successor Dale Trujeque, he and a group of colleagues visited News Five to air multiple grievances.

 

Raymond Rivers

“We have a Pastor Crawford right now, that got paid off the other day; and for fourteen years, this man got a hundred and sixty-five dollars, for fourteen years of work with P.B.L. and [the] receivership. And we have over fifteen to twenty to thirty more stevedores weh de ina the same crisis right now, weh di wait fi get deh right payoff money. We have some weh get eight hundred; some weh get a thousand; and ih very, very wrong fi kno you do work all these years fi get next to nothing.  We worked from last week Thursday and our pay noh gone eena di bank yet, up to last night. So we di talk bout a week some a deh man di go out fi work pah sugar boat out a sea, without food and without proper things fi ker dah work; even the water weh Port of Belize give we, da like dehn go full it da pipe and give it to we, so dah real disrespect deh ketch we and di workers. Some no wah talk; some wah talk. And I wah she dis: we have two gang weh work sugar boat, each gang fi put in three hundred and fifty tons of sugar in thirteen hours, so from six in the morning till six in the evening, I fi put in three hundred and fifty tons of sugar and di gang going tonight should put in three hundred and fifty tons of sugar – that is in the old C.B.A. before the Port was sold and we still living by the old C.B.A. But we have Gang Seven they go and put in over this three hundred and fifty [tons]; they put in five hundred and thirty tons of sugar and B.S.I. give them no reward for it.”

 

But C.E.O. and receiver for the Port of Belize, Arturo Vasquez, told us shortly afterward that nothing could be further from the truth. The insurance policy is explained and specifics can be gleaned from the company, in this case RF&G Limited. As for pensions, the Port has so far been unable to get the stevedores to agree to contribute to the scheme as is typical for companies, but they do get a modest nest egg.

 

Arturo Vasquez

Arturo Vasquez, C.E.O./Receiver, Port of Belize Limited

“Pension is never adequate. I’ve said to the stevedores more than once, and I’m sure you appreciate this, and we try to explain and every company will explain to their employees: pension is not one hundred percent, should not be by [us]; you should be putting up [for] your pension as well. That’s why, what they are getting now is something contributory to them; what I have been trying to do with them, is have them contribute and we also will contribute. So in any pension scheme, I contribute, you contribute, that is how a pension is put together. Maybe these people believe that your pension shouldn’t be any of your money at all – a pension is a combination of employers’ and employees’ benefits; I’m sure you understand it that way. But there are people who believe that pensions should completely not be anyone’s responsibility; you and I have to look after our pension as well. Any company I know contributes as well, as much or double whatever the employee is contributing.”

 

As for the threats of strike and the ongoing go-slow, Vasquez told us that it has no basis in fact and no visible means of support.

 

Audrey Matura & Dale Trujeque

Arturo Vasquez

“I can say this, outright, that it is not something that is sanctioned by the C.W.U.; if you get to speak to the C.W.U. today you may ask them that. So obviously they have been doing a go-slow, which I can say to you I have no idea what it is that they want.”

 

Reporter

“They did not communicate any issue with you?”

 

Arturo Vasquez

“There is no issue as far as we are concerned; I repeat, the C.W.U. is not sanctioning any go-slow.”

 

In this showdown, who will blink first? Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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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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