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Jun 28, 2012

Stevedores slow work pace for union negotiation

A go-slow by stevedores of the Christian Workers Union (C.W.U.) on Tuesday was stepped up to a work stoppage on Wednesday. The stevedores complained that the negotiation process for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (C.B.A.) between the Union and the Port of Belize Limited was moving at a snail’s pace. The troubles go back to May when sugar off-loaders went on strike, asking among other things, for a salary increase for stevedores. Both parties signed off on a six-point agreement that was to take effect on June first. With a sugar vessel at port, the stevedores again went on strike. But tonight they are back at work after a meeting this morning at the labor department with Union members and the Labor Commissioner. Freelance Reporter Duane Moody was at a press briefing that followed that meeting.

 

Antonio Gonzalez

“It has always been the fault of management to stall and to give excuses why they cannot attend meetings.”

 

The Labor Commissioner and the Christian Workers Union met today to decide a way forward in respect of an ongoing dispute with the Port of Belize and stevedores who went on a go-slow on Tuesday. Three issues were discussed this morning, says President of the Christian Workers Union, Antonio Gonzalez.

 

Antonio Gonzalez

Antonio Gonzalez, President, Christian Workers Union

“We discussed the same issues that we discussed yesterday. First of all the payment to the stevedores who took industrial action on the twenty-sixth of June; again the resumption of work of the sugar vessel out there and the third thing was the situation with the ongoing negotiations between the Port of Belize Limited and the Christian Workers Union on behalf of Stevedores.  We managed to move forward with getting the payments for the stevedores. The other issue with the resumption of work; we all agreed also that since we have discussed the negotiations scenario to the extent of how we intent to move with the Port of Belize Limited, we agreed to say okay we will resume work at six o’clock this evening. So that was agreed along with the stevedores and so we resume work this evening at six p.m.”

 

The Union says there has been foot dragging on a pending Collective Bargain Agreement with the PBL. A timeline has now been agreed for its signing.

 

Antonio Gonzalez

“There is ongoing negotiations between BPL and CWU, but there have been situations whereby the management of Port have been stalling it by being absent—absent in the fact that the C.E.O. is out of the country or attending other business. And so we have that frustrated process of negotiation.”

 

James McFoy

James McFoy, General Secretary, Christian Workers Union

“Because of the seriousness of it, we have pledged and explained that we are prepared to meet even on Saturdays and Sundays if possible to get this thing concluded on or before the seventh of August. Without a collective agreement, the Port has a tendency to do what they want and disregard the union, but with a CBA, that would put to rest some of the behavior and the attitude of the port so that the workers can feel that they are protected and the main reason as mentioned before, why we are at this stage is because there is no collective agreement.”

 

Four issues were proposed to management of the Port of Belize Limited which includes an insurance policy for stevedores.

 

Antonio Gonzalez

“On the fifth of July, based on a meeting on the twenty-fifth of June where both party met, they are to submit a counterproposal on four issues: First the retirement, second the situation with the composition of gangs; third, salary and wages with retroactivity involved. And the fourth was the insurance coverage for stevedores in relation to accident and life since it is a risky job. There is a lot of risk involved and as such we are trying to negotiate insurance coverage for stevedores.  In order to have more strength to the negotiation process, we have requested on the eleventh of July to have the involvement of the labor commissioner. And the need for that is that at that meeting we want to rev up the negotiation process by having specific dates within a period of two to three weeks culminating with the intention that the union commits by the seventh of August—it could finalize before that but by the seventh of August.”

 

The disruption at the Port on Wednesday sparked the intervention of Labor Commissioner, Ivan Williams. Williams says the negotiation framework needed fine-tuning.

 

Ivan Williams

Ivan Williams, Labor Commissioner

“It raises concern for the Ministry of Labor because clearly the Port is an essential service and we don’t want to have any form of industrial actions taken on an essential service—actually there is a law governing that. And so, on the twenty-seventh we intervened. And that was the meeting that was held yesterday. At that meeting we listened to both sides and gathered what the concerns were. There is a negotiation framework that was worked out by the parties in terms of how they will treat each other in respect to the negotiation process; how proposals and counterproposals are made, calling meetings and so on. I have reviewed that proposal and there is room to strengthen that negotiation proposal particularly in the areas of scheduling meetings and in setting a time line as to when negotiations will conclude; a CBA signed. I am calling on the parties in advance to ensure that the schedule date of the meeting for eleventh July is complied with and that the parties sit at that meeting in good faith and try their best to ensure that we have a schedule of meetings and a time frame and that the process which is required can take its course and that at some time not in the distant future that we can have a collective bargaining agreement between the Christian Workers Union covering the stevedores and Port of Belize Limited.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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