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Feb 28, 2007

Politicians, unions lash B.T.L. for firing Perriott

Story PictureThe press releases started flooding our newsroom almost before the ink was dry on Christine Perriott’s termination letter. The PUP’s reached first and their condemnation of her firing barely made it on yesterday’s newscast. Similar sentiments were echoed shortly afterwards by the U.D.P. and V.I.P., not to mention a host of unions and other organisations. We’ll start tonight’s coverage with Opposition Leader Dean Barrow, who called Perriott’s termination a “lousy public relations move” and “bad business”.

Dean Barrow, Leader of Opposition
“Lord, the morality of the situation, the tremendous misstep on the part of the B.T.L. that it represents, the damage B.T.L. does to itself and to its corporate image is I think extremely regrettable. It has created a kind of crisis atmosphere in regards to industrial relations generally. Already you hear on this morning’s talk show circuit, people saying well what does this mean generally for workers’ rights?, what does this mean for viability of trade unions?, you hear the trade unions congress getting involved. Lord, I don’t know how on earth B.T.L. could have acted at this time in such a way as to precipitate, as to trigger that kind of situation and that kind of reaction. I think it is very, very regrettable and I would hope that B.T.L. might consider all of this, all the implications and think in terms of asking Mrs. Perriott to come back to work. It would probably be a bitter pill for B.T.L. to swallow but, given all that is involved, I would want to urge them to look at that possibility seriously.”

Janelle Chanona
“What role does the UDP see itself playing in this whole dynamic situation?”

Dean Barrow
“Well again, whatever role the B.C.W.U. and the rest of the trade union congress would like us to play. We understand, as happened on the last occasion when there was a demonstration, that there is some sensitivity and that the unions are very leery of having anyone suggest that they are wrapped up with a particular political party. They don’t want their actions to be tarred with a partisan brush and we have to respect that. But to the extent of offering our public expressions of sympathy and solidarity and to extent of if they are going back into the streets marching alongside them, as long as they indicate we are welcome, we are more than happy to do this.”

President of the Belize National Teachers Union and councillor of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, Anthony Fuentes, says Perriott and the three other dismissed workers should get their jobs back immediately or there’ll be hell to pay.

Anthony Fuentes, Councillor, N.T.U.C.B.
“This is gross disrespect to the trade union and the trade union recognition act that Belize signed and also the I.L.O. convention of collective bargaining and association, so the N.T.U.C.B. will do all in its powers to ensure that Christine Perriott and the other three liaison officers be reinstated at their job back at B.T.L.”

Janelle Chanona
“How will you all go about doing that?”

Anthony Fuentes
“Okay, this evening N.T.U.C.B. is calling an emergency meeting and we will definitely plan and strategize to insure that these persons go back into their job. Probably what the management of B.T.L. wants and the entire country is a reoccurrence of what happened in 2005. This we cannot tolerate as trade union.”

“The Belize National Teachers Union is fully supporting and in solidarity with the Belize Communication Workers Union and we’ll be putting out a press release today condemning the act at B.T.L. We also are informing our general membership so that we too will get on board and take a stand. If we have to shut the schools again we will do it to show solidarity with the Belize Communication Workers Union. This time we are very serious about it because we cannot tolerate whosoever from abroad to come in and destroy Belize and trade unions in our country.”

A press release from the Public Service Union went even further than Fuentes by placing the Perriott problem squarely at Government’s doorstep. The P.S.U. (quote) “demands that the Government of Belize and in particular the Minister of Labour intervene and immediately secure the reinstatement of all four union representatives or this government’s ability to govern us will certainly be challenged.” The P.S.U. also took a swing at Michael Ashcroft today calling on its members and supporters to (quote) “boycott companies in which he has interests like B.T.L., Belize Bank, and Radisson Hotel. If this wealthy man refuses to abide by the law then we need not do business with him.”

Late this evening, President of the B.C.W.U., Paul Perriott–who is also Christine’s husband–sent to the media a copy of a letter he wrote to Chairman of B.T.L.’s Executive Committee Dean Boyce. That letter informed Boyce that the union is filing an official grievance for the termination of Christine Perriott’s services to the company. The President referred to the firing as “a most obscene and disrespectful act as it demonstrates total disregard for the current reconciliation process that the Ministry of Labour has initiated and by extension total disregard for modern relations practices in Belize.” The union goes on to demand the immediate reinstatement of Christine Perriott as a technician in the Internet Department of B.T.L.. The letter is copied to Minister of Labour Francis Fonseca and Acting Labour Commissioner Adelfino Vasquez. This morning Vasquez says his department became aware of the situation around five yesterday. The Labour Department agrees the firing was poorly timed.

Adelfino Vasquez, Acting Labour Commissioner
“We believe that B.T.L. acted in bad faith as presently we are negotiating with B.T.L. and Belize Communication Workers to try to settle the differences that they have in relation to the firing of three individuals. Now this would make it the fourth but what is alarming is that Ms. Perriott is a trade unionist in her own right and she has her rights to be protected and this is one of the things that definitely our department, our Ministry, will ensure that if her rights have been violated, that those rights are given back to her. We will have to meet with the company at this stage and find out really what happened and why they decided to take that type of action.”

Janelle Chanona
“Regarding the initial firing of the three workers, where are you all with that?”

Adelfino Vasquez
“Really we have not moved any way far. What has happened is that there should have been a meeting yesterday as it relates to the individual positions, which means the company’s position and the union’s position, so that the talks or the negotiations could move forward but that did not happen.”

According to Vasquez, the meeting did not happen because the B.C.W.U. did not submit a written statement of their position to the Ministry of Labour. The twenty-one day deadline for the trade dispute ends on Monday, March fifth. If the matter is not resolved, an arbitration panel will be established to mediate a solution which would be legally binding on both sides. Our attempts to elicit an on-camera comment from Belize Telecommunications Limited today were unsuccessful. In a phone interview aired yesterday, B.T.L. executive Karen Bevans indicated that Perriott’s dismissal was justified and due to the deterioration in her personal relationship with the company.

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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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