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Apr 25, 2005

B.T.L. employees resist management

Story PictureWhile all eyes were focussed on the nation’s teachers, the controversy–or controversies?involving Belize’s telecommunications system continued on a tortuous path toward possible resolution. On the technical front, most B.T.L. services have been restored to near normal with the exception of some fibre optic links–unfortunately including those that carry this station’s television signals around the country. B.T.L. management is reopening many of its offices that had been closed, including Church Street in Belize City, Corozal, Orange Walk, San Ignacio, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda. The Belmopan office remains shut down, although shift operators have been asked to return to work. And while the Esquivel Telecom Centre on Saint Thomas Street is closed, all those employees who worked to restore service over the weekend were asked to report in. All other employees are being requested to remain on standby. That notice, issued by C.E.O. Gaspar Aguilar, looked to some observers like either a crass ploy to divide and conquer or a prudent move to prevent another round of sabotage. Whatever its intent, union representatives weren’t buying. Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
The B.T.L. workers walked the short distance from the Esquivel Telecom Centre to the Marion Jones Stadium for a meeting with their union. President of the Belize Communication Workers Union, Paul Perriott, says the employees unanimously rejected attempts to undermine their resolve.

Paul Perriott, President, B.C.W.U
?We just got again the mandate from our membership that we must remain together. There will be no break in this chain. And as long as we stay together, the management or whoever within management that is trying to cause this division among ourselves as B.T.L. employees need to understand that we are together. And the few people that went to work this morning were called out to this meeting and all of them showed up here. And I must mention that the support is there and we will be moving in unison.?

Perriott says the B.C.W.U. maintains that the workers will go back into the company together or none at all. Union officials sought an audience with C.E.O. Gaspar Aguilar as the rank and file stood watch outside the compound. But while Perriott tried to negotiate, another kink in the process surfaced this morning.

Paul Perriott
?Certain banks the freeze our salaries. Between today and tomorrow are the days where normally our salaries are at the bank and we could start to take out money. We are hearing that certain banks have been called, especially Belize Bank, which is run by Michael Ashcroft again and they are one of the main banks that are freezing our salaries. Staff gone the morning and noticed the money is in there when they gone back to check, the notice that the money is not posted in there anymore. So as I said, it?s just another frustration that we walked into B.T.L. and found that out this morning.?

That frustration coupled with mistrust by management has left the employees and the public wondering when it will all end. Perriott says they are willing to go back to work just as soon as management gives them the go ahead.

Paul Perriott
?Everything they are trying to say boils around security and trust. And I?m saying if they even let us in tomorrow or Thursday or Friday or next week Monday, if we don?t have trust right now, I don?t think no other day we are going to have trust. I mean bottom line that is it. If we don?t have a trust, if you can?t build that trust relationship right now with them and come forward and let us talk, get this thing settled as employees of B.T.L., because this is a family and this is our company, then I don?t see how we will built it next week or the week after. They can?t rule by force. This is not rule by force thing; this is understanding.?

Patrick Jones
?The people who are running the company right now and the police have said that the system going down was sabotage. If that is the case, why should they let the people who sabotaged it in the first place, why should they let them back into the company??

Paul Perriott
?Well as I say again, that has to be proven. And until that is proven you could then maybe listen to whatever they have to say. I am saying here that as the president of the Belize Communication Workers Union, we are ready to go back in and we are ready to work with the management of B.T.L., because as I said this thing is not only about the management of B.T.L. or the employees of B.T.L. This is all of us. I mean this is about company, our bread and butter.?

And while the workers wait for answers, Perriott says the employees of one of the nation?s most profitable public company will just have to take it one day at a time. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Regarding the issue of B.T.L. salaries being frozen at the bank, a release by the company concedes that after over a week without collecting income, B.T.L.’s overdraft facility was exhausted and indeed no funds were available. The release goes on to state, however, that efforts are being made to correct the situation and by Tuesday, which is in fact the designated payday, all employees will be paid. Meanwhile, the union has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday afternoon to update the public on the status of negotiations toward employee purchases of B.T.L. shares now in the possession of government.


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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