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Sep 28, 1999

Venus Bus suspends service in protest

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A strike generally refers to an industrial action by employees against management but what if the management tells the workers not to work? One Belizean bus company has done just this, shutting down its entire operation, forcing ninety employees to sit idly by. The owner says he had to resort to such drastic action to save his business and send the government a message about the issuing of transport permits.

On Saturday Venus Bus Line pulled its buses off the highway and temporarily suspended service.

Froylan Gilharry Sr., Owner, Venus Bus Line

“It’s not that I have just decided. Over a year ago I am planning that if this thing does not straighten up I will have no other choice than strike until this matter has been straightened out.”

The problem is mainly between two major bus companies: Venus Bus Line and Batty Brothers Bus Service. In a telephone interview with Froylan Gilharry Sr., the owner of Venus Bus Line, who claimed that despite the fact that he was given a permit to operate an eight-hour run from the Chetumal Border to Belize City in the mornings and from Belize City to Corozal in the evenings, his major competitor has been cutting in on the runs.

Froylan Gilharry Sr.

“He has special buses, then he has regular buses that he puts in and they continue to come the whole day to Corozal. You can go there now and buy a ticket three o’clock, four o’clock , seven o’ clock; they control it.”

Adolfo Quan, Manager, Batty Brothers Bus Service

“We don’t think so; we have operating permits that we have been legally issued.”

Adolfo Quan, Manager of Batty Brothers Bus Service, says he does not believe the “fuss” is about the regular scheduled runs which he insists are not at the same time as Venus’. He says Gilharry is upset about a three-month temporary permit given to Batty’s to operate a premier deluxe service. Quan concedes that the premier does operate at the same time as Venus buses.

Adolfo Quan

“We do have one permit on each others route. We operate under this permit that I mentioned – the first class service that was given to us for three months. This expires at the end of October.”

According to the Ministry of Transport the temporary permit was not issued to create problems for either of the bus companies but was done in good faith to boost tourism. According to Victor Gonzalez, the permanent secretary, many tourists have been attracted to this special service therefore a temporary permit was issued to Batty’s for the period of July twentieth to October thirty-first, 1999. Gonzalez says the exclusive is intended for Venus and if they are ready with their deluxe service by the end of October, they will get the permit for deluxe service. Quan says right now, they are not competing for the same clients.

Adolfo Quan

“I personally don’t see that it affects their service in that the people who would pay the price to ride a first class service would not normally go on the second class service and vice versa. People who only have enough money to ride on the economy bus would not pay more money to ride on the… It is a service that has not been available in the country.”

While the controversy continues, a bigger problem has arisen as a result: approximately ninety people temporarily out of work. However it is a problem Gilharry says the employees have been aware of for a year.

Froylan Gilharry Sr.

“They know this for quite sometime. From over a year this company has been facing, that we hardly make to cover our expenses and all, what I could have gathered in the past. I had tried to keep this thing going and they know it.

I wanted to close down the business because the government doesn’t do anything about it but they say no, at least we still get something. And then hoping the government would put some kind of stop to it or a decision that we can work in peace and that’s why I have been up and down in Belmopan for a year.”

The suspension of Venus’ service has affected others as well. People are left stranded along the Northern Highway, left to catch whatever ride that may come along their way. In the city the taxi service that operates from the Venus Bus Terminal has slowed down tremendously.

Anthony Garbutt, Taxi Driver

“Very quiet, there are hardly any people coming. As I said it is only what comes off Z-Line or the people you would get coming from the streets, from their homes.”

Ramon Santiago, Taxi Driver

“Bad because I am making no money to feed my family right about now. It is slow; just a few people come off the bus from the other bus lines and people passing on the street, that’s all.”

The problem has also affected business at the terminal restaurant.

Erleen Robinson, Owner, Restaurant

“Bad. Very, very bad. It has been very low.”

Q: “So you hardly get anybody coming to your restaurant?”

Erleen Robinson

“Only off of the Z-Line buses and people who are stopping. It affects the business very bad and I have three workers besides myself that I have to pay. It’s very low.”

Gonzalez says the Ministry is concerned about the situation and they are negotiating with both bus companies. Gonzalez believes if both sides are willing to meet and come to a compromise, the matter can be settled amicably.

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