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Mar 26, 2002

Truckers protest at Shell

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When a tanker ship bringing petroleum products to Belize fails to make port in time, the resulting fuel shortage creates panic at the pumps. But what would happen if the trucks that carry the gasoline and diesel from the port to the pumps fail to arrive? That’s just the prospect that faced the management of Shell this morning. Jacqueline Woods reports.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

For the second day, truckers who have contracts with Shell Belize Limited for the transportation of fuel went on strike. Although the Petroleum Haulers Association and Shell’s management continued to negotiate, the association’s president, Joe Briceno, says it appears that Shell no longer wants to do business with them.

Joe Briceno, President, Petroleum Haulers Association

“Some of these drivers and contractors have been contracting for Shell on an average of fifteen years. Some a little bit more, but on average fifteen years and they are one of the best trained drivers that Shell has.”

The contract for the transportation of fuel is renewable every two years. But on December thirty-first, 2001, when the transporters’ contract came to an end and the company started to negotiate for a new contract, it became clear that it would not be business as usual. Instead of contracting with nine individuals, Shell decided to give the contract to three persons. The contract was tendered, but Briceno says on Saturday when the association made a bid, the company informed them that the contract had been granted to three of its employees. The new contractors would then be expected to subcontract the work to the truckers. The truckers responded by going on strike on Monday.

Eduardo Gongora, Trucker

“We bring Shell where Shell is right now. Where they are right now, we put them deh because the risk we tek out there to get Shell under where they is right now, we deserve to be treated better than that. Deh guy come from nowhere as a lee workman in the yard and get a position to getup there, and now they trying to throw we out a we job, and it’s not right. I am the second oldest contractor for Shell; one man is here older than me. And those three guys weh get the contract come yah long after we. And it’s not fair for them get the contract and still have to go get truck to work. Why we no continue work?”

Jorge Espat, one of the contractors, says he was told that his bid was not even considered and that he and his driver will be affected.

Jorge Espat, Owner, Jennelle’s Trucking Company

“What we really want is that we want the whole situation to work the way it is actually operating, with all the haulers so that everybody will get a piece of the pie.”

Adrian Rodas, Driver, Jennelle’s Trucking Company

“If they subcontract, that means our pay will just be going down instead of going up, so that’s the problem. And they don’t guarantee anything too as yet. So probably they will just get their own trucks and hire drivers.”

Briceno says four years ago at Shell’s request, they have been transporting fuel for the company at discounted prices.

Joe Briceno, President, Petroleum Trucking Company

“Four years ago they came and asked us for one cent discount on the government freight and we went along with it. Two years ago now they want ten percent off the discount price we’ve already given them. And they told us take it or leave it, if you don’t give us the ten percent, you don’t have a job anymore. Everybody needs a job, so we went along with it.

But we want back our normal freight that the government promise they should give us, plus a security. Not this that we will have our work back. The association is prepared to look after its members. If they can pay the association, then the association pays its members. Cause they were talking that they don’t want to deal with so much people and that is why we form ourselves into an association. So I am the president and I will represent them plus the other officers. That’s all we’re asking for, we want to be assured that our contract will not…and that we are not going to be subcontractors for no one.”

At the end of the day, no final agreements between the two parties were made. But According to reports, the company did say that it would suspend its decision to award the contract to its three employees and resume negotiations with the Petroleum Haulers. In the meantime, those truckers have resumed work. Jacqueline Woods reporting for News 5.

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