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Jul 10, 2012

Negotiations at Port of Belize will take time

Arturo Vasquez

Less than two weeks ago, a go-slow was initiated by the Stevedores of the Christian Workers Union at the Port of Belize and by the following day it had transformed into a work stoppage. The actions were stimulated by what Stevedores called a slow negotiation process for a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Union and the Port of Belize Limited. While progress has been slow in coming, Receiver of the Belize Port Limited, Arturo ‘Tux’ Vasquez says that a meeting will be held on Wednesday where negotiations will continue. He says the process, more than likely, will be longer than most are anticipating and it will also require some level of compromise.

 

Arturo Vasquez, Belize Port Authority

“We have to reiterate the fact that we are in negotiations which mean that some people have to give and so you know, it’s a give and take situation. I was not in town on that day; I had left the country the same day, but just before I left, there was a meeting, our third negotiations meeting that we had. We were a bit surprised that just after that, two hours after, these guys were saying that negotiations was not going on. The Labour Commissioner got involved, I was on the phone with them and eventually we settled it. But again I was surprised because negotiations are happening so I can’t see how they can say that we’re not negotiating. Maybe we are not negotiating as quick as they want, but we hope that when we meet this Wednesday we should be able to clear up some of these things as to how we move forward with the negotiations because I think if we are to negotiate, we need to negotiate in good faith. And as I said, negotiation takes a little bit of giving and taking. So hopefully this Wednesday—we will also have the Labour Commissioner in the meeting—so hopefully we can get a few things straightened out between both parties.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now do you believe that they will be receptive to the recommendations coming forward?”

 

Arturo Vasquez

“We have been issuing recommendations to each other by documentations. We have been going over the retirement age, severance to them, retirement payment and gang sizes. Those are three of the things that we have been discussing. And to be honest, they have not accepted any of the proposals that we have submitted. The retirement age, they sort of agreed; the retirement fund that we had promised to pay them, they have decided that is not what they want; and when it came to gang sizes, I don’t even think the group was able to get into a discussing last week on that. So I am sure that that will be a main topic for Wednesday. They, last week, also put in two new items—well not new items, but items that were not on the agenda for that day, but that would have been discussed in further meetings. And that was really a raise in salary and I think the other one was insurance. But as I pointed out to them in a letter that I just wrote to them on Friday, we have to decide or agree on the gang size first before I can get into salary increases or insurance because let’s face it, you can’t really get into negotiating new salaries and insurances if you don’t know what the size of your employment so to speak is. So it is important for us now to decide how many people are we employing first before I can get into; you understand. If you don’t know how many people you are paying, then you can’t say what the increases will be or what the insurances will be. So I did write them and I told them that we will have to leave those until we have agreed on these two points first.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So technically, it can take a while before a conclusion.”

 

Arturo Vasquez

“Well there are several things on the list that has to be negotiated. Remember this goes back to when the court got privatized in 2003. There was a memorandum of understanding that was signed between the owner then and the stevedores when they came over. And that M.O.U. was for them to then discuss all these items. But there were several things. We had signed a negotiating framework that lists all things that needed to be discussed starting with retirement age, retirement payment, gang sizes, insurance, salaries, disciplinary actions. There is a host of things that we have to discuss and we agreed that we will discuss them as we go along. So I think that we need to also understand between ourselves that if we are not agreeing as we come along, it could take quite a while. I heard them mentioning that they are planning to have this finished by August; that will not be possible. We had given them a timeline before to as far as maybe November before we will be finished with all this. So again we will see on Wednesday what comes out of the meeting. But we are hoping that we can arrive at something pretty good and not having any industrial action as such.”

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1 Response for “Negotiations at Port of Belize will take time”

  1. Storm says:

    It was a mistake to turn over operation of our port, which is strategically important to the entire nation, to a private company without experience. Forget how that occurred or whether it was a corrupt deal, it needs to be ended.

    The whole nation depends on the function of the port. Labour issues there need to be handled differently than with private businesses — strikes and slowdowns should be forbidden, in return for some neutral arbitration of labour impasses.

    Time is money for most businesses. Who will invest here if they take the risk that their products or business will be held hostage by disgruntled stevedores, incompetent management, or any other similar cause?

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