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Oct 22, 2012

More than 60 women protest Belize Aquaculture Limited over money

A protest was held today in the south. Employees of Belize Aquaculture Limited located on the Placencia Road are angry that their terms of employment have changed to contract work, which means that they will only take home half of their usual salary. There are five hundred employees with the company, of which three hundred and fifty work directly in the shrimp plant de-heading and deveining shrimp. Today, about sixty-five of them walked off the job. Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

On the civilian side of the barricade to Belize Aquaculture Limited, over sixty women angrily expressed their frustration. The women, now former employees of the shrimp farm, were upset that the company had decided to pay them on a contract basis, which cuts their income.

 

Julia Bonilla

Julia Bonilla, Former Employee, BAL

“We wah get paid Friday; Friday right here. They say Friday the pay should be under contract when they neva come to we and say unu people this dah by contract. Unu have to work and the payday Friday will be on contract; it noh wah base on hourly. We were working under hourly—it was three dollars and thirty cents an hour—we should get paid twenty-nine dollars and seventy cents everyday from seven to four-thirty. But it seems that they just changed up everything pan we without no meeting or say anything until today [when] they came and have a meeting with us.”

 

Delsie Williams

Delsie Williams, Former Employee, BAL

“We are just sending a message so that the rest of ladies before they come to this place; they can know what we were facing. One of the thing is, I was working here since the fourteen of June and I was hired under the hourly list and I was moved to that area without no explanation. And so that is why I am with the rest of the ladies because I am not satisfied with it. There is no way I would apply for a contract job knowing that I can’t do the contract.”

 

The cut, according to the women who are mainly single mothers, is so drastic that it allows them to make less than half of what they are currently being paid—that is roughly a meager hundred and fifty dollars every two weeks.

 

Julia Bonilla

“Unu have to make a hundred and twenty pounds of lone devein to make your same salary.”

 

Duane Moody

“Which is the same twenty-nine dollars and seventy cents…”

 

Julia Bonilla

“…which is the same salary. Then they come and tell us like this; unu wah get fifty cents—the one for one twenty, it will be twenty-five cents per pound. Then the one that they want to pay us fifty cents, they say you have to peel and you have to devein it; plus you have to take out the broken ones, the soft ones and you have to put them separate. So that dah wah extra job; that dah like three jobs ina one. And then you have to do sixty pounds of that for you to get your day’s salary. And we did not agree. I take like an hour and a half only on one tray weh only make like six to seven pounds. So you could imagine how much I would make until four o’clock, four-thirty. So I will not be able to make my salary.”

 

One in particular, Filomena Palacio, says two weeks ago, she received this employment letter stating that she was making thirty dollars daily. And with four kids in school and the only breadwinner in the family, the announcement this morning was like a slap in the face.

 

Filomena Palacio, Former Employee, BAL

“I sit down home because then that dah di paper weh deh give me to take to the bank.”

 

Duane Moody

“And now you are not going to make that?”

 

Filomena Palacio

Filomena Palacio

“No sir and I feel bad.”

 

Duane Moody

“What are you going to do?”

 

Filomena Palacio

“Well that’s why we call unu so that unu could fight fi we because then we noh know weh fi do after this.”

 

Duane Moody

“Can you guys afford not to work?”

 

Natalie Caballero

Natalie Caballero, Former Employee, BAL

“I can’t afford not to work; that dah why I try show up pan my job every day. Last week I sprain my foot but I try come dah work as my foot try heal. I come; I barely di walk fi mek I could come and make my money. Because I need my job that is why I am here.”

 

Duane Moody

“But what are you guys going to do now? You actually walked off from your job.”

 

Natalie Caballero

“We noh walk off; ih actually chase wi. Ina wah sense ih chase wi because ih tell wi make wi haul wi “R”—ih noh need wi; that dah weh ih tell wi.”

 

But General Manager at BAL, David Griffith, says that the women were informed two weeks ago and he was flabbergasted by their reaction.

 

David Griffith

David Griffith, General Manager, BAL

“We published the contract on the bulletin boards in the canteen and we felt that people were on board and willing to try. So it was a bit of a surprise that they’ve taken this position today. We have been training the women to peel and we’ve been paying them on an hourly basis so they have been getting minimum wage plus overtime. But it hasn’t been very efficient in terms of cost for the company. It means that the product we send out is very expensive and they haven’t been producing at levels that are competitive with other companies in the region. Our idea was to switch to a piece work rate on a contract which would pay a premium for people who are producing over the average level. And those people who can’t make the average or can’t make the minimum wage on a piece rate would not continue working and we do this already with our de-headers. The de-headers have been on contract since they started in June or July and some of them are making upwards of a hundred dollars piece rate contract.”

 

The women have since sought assistance from the Labour Department in nearby Mango Creek.

 

Duane Moody

“After meeting with the Labor Department, the Minister of Labor, even getting the Prime Minister involved; nothing happens, what are you guys going to do?”

 

Delsie Williams

“Then it will be sad on those other departments that they are not fulfilling their end of the bargain because that’s why we have them and we need to exercise our rights. Regardless, we can’t win all the time, but by sending this message we are winners and we are not afraid of them. We have to continue stop beign afraid of people. Not because you are the manager and you have the power, you can come and disrespect us and expect that we must be there and go crying and because we have children to feed that we must tolerate what injustice is [being] done to us.”

 

David Griffith

“They have resigned. Now, I am not gonna say that we wouldn’t be willing to talk to them when they come back. But if they do come back, they will come back to peel on the contract basis with the same conditions anybody else is working on peeling.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

 

Griffiths says that the women would be rehired at their return, but only on a contract basis.

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7 Responses for “More than 60 women protest Belize Aquaculture Limited over money”

  1. easy glenn says:

    2012 Slavery

  2. Storm says:

    Once ago I was in the same business somewhere else in Central America, and contract work was the practice everywhere. Somehow, workers paid by the hour produce much less than those paid by the pound.

    Maybe someone needs to make an objective study of what the real production per hour or per day should be to come up with a fair contract price. It depends on a lot of factors, mostly the size of the shrimp and the degree of processing required [deveined, head off, shell off, etc.].

    Interestingly at the plant where I worked there was one team [teams were 8 workers and one leader who checked for quality] made up entirely of handicapped people, some even in wheel chairs, and they produced the most and did the best quality. They were very happy to have jobs where their handicaps didn’t interfere with being productive and earning a decent income.

    I imagine there will be other workers here in the Jewel who will be motivated to take the work on a contract basis. Under a fair contract price, the workers can actually make more than at an hourly rate, if they are willing to work their best.

  3. Belizean says:

    These people need POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE!!

  4. melinda bejerano says:

    The shrimp farm is very chancy to these women. Labour has to go in there and set a fair contract price.

  5. Carlos says:

    I do not understand why these people are upset, the labour law is clear enough: if they do not meet the minimum salary by contract in the hours established, then the company should compensate the difference… All they need to do is to keep track of their timesheets and if any problems then just inform labour department… I beth that in 3 weeks time these ladies will be earning much more and will be happier…

  6. Hard Working Belizean Female says:

    Melinda Berejano you don’t know what you talking about… The lady complaining the most, Julia Bonilla, is the one that produces the least… all she want to do is talk on her cell all day thats why she worried about getting paid by contract because she lazy!!! She want to take home day pay without doing the work…this is what is wrong with a lot Belizeans… deh want the pay but deh no wan do the work … you think everyone needs to give you a free ride!!!

  7. Hard Working Belizean Female says:

    The lady, Julia Bonilla, the one complaining the most, she’s just a trouble maker. She worried about going on contract price because she is lazy… all she wan do da talk pan cell phone!!! She want a day pay without doing the work… that is what is wrong with many Belizeans nowadays…expect to get paid but don’t want to put any effort and they wonder why some get ahead and they don’t… they expect a free ride!!!

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