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Feb 2, 2005

Unions call for 2 day nationwide shutdown

Story PictureThe ante has been raised in the ongoing dispute between Belize’s labour movement and the government as the Christian Workers Union has joined the strike and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize has given Belmopan an ultimatum. That ultimatum says that if the demands for a rollback of new taxes and the granting of promised pay raises for teachers and public officers are not met by five this evening there would be a total shutdown of the nation on Thursday and Friday, accompanied by a mass demonstration in Belize City on Friday. That deadline has come and gone and at newstime we understand that a union negotiating team is meeting with GOB representatives at the Law Library in Belize City. Whether the two sides can come to a last minute compromise is anybody’s guess, but as the day began this morning negotiations were focussed on a more immediate conflict.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
It was to be a march by approximately sixty members of the Christian Workers Union, from the City Centre to the Constitution Park. But while on Central American Boulevard, police informed union leader Antonio Gonzalez that their protest was illegal.

Antonio Gonzalez, President, Christian Workers Union
?We gweng right da the union office.?

Chester Williams, O.C., CIB
?You need to stand down. If not, I will take you into custody you know.?

Antonio Gonzalez
?I spoke to Mista Man already.?

Chester Williams
?Da me in charge out ya. I talk to you already. (Talking into phone: come meet me pan cemetery road.)?

Antonio Gonzalez
?Look ya. Tek down the signs and unu walk one by one.?

The unionists tried a different tactic, dispersing the demonstrators and removing placards, but Assistant Superintendent Chester Williams wasn?t fooled.

Antonio Gonzalez
?One by one unu go da the union office. One by one…one by one…put down the signs…put down the signs.?

Janelle Chanona
?Did you get a permit Mr. Gonzalez??

Antonio Gonzalez
?No, we didn?t get a permit. We are going to our office right now. Okay.?

Janelle Chanona
?You are being detained.?

Voice of Chester Williams
?Yes, he?ll be taken to the police station for organizing an illegal demonstration.?

Janelle Chanona
?What?s the penalty for that??

Voice of police officer.
?You are going into police vehicle.?

With their leader in custody, the workers assembled on the grounds of the union office. Maintaining a presence in the area, police informed the protesters of their situation.

Assistant Superintendent Edward Broaster, Deputy OC, Patrol Branch
?Who in charge of the group??

Members chanting
?All ah we. All of us. All of us.?

ASP Edward Broaster
?All right listen to me. Unu nuh have no permit to demonstrate right. If unu come out of the compound with unu placard they wah arrest unu and take unu in.?

?All ah we??

ASP Edward Broaster
?Yes, alright.?

When Gonzalez returned to the CWU office a short time later, no charges or fines had been filed against him. With him was his legal counsel, Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow.

Dean Barrow, Leader of Opposition
?Before setting out for the station, I called the authorities, including the Minister to suggest that it really did not make a lot of sense to detain a union leader in circumstances such as these. The Minister said he would look into it. He called me back quite quickly to say that Mr. Gonzalez was being released.?

?While clearly everyone who is involved in this protest needs to try and follow the law as much as possible, the authorities also need to exercise restraint. This is the leader of the Christian Workers Union; you don?t grab him and take him to the station on any pretext.?

Following meetings on Tuesday between the NTUCB and its social partners, today the word out of the unions? camp was dissatisfaction with government?s response. In its reaction, the unions say they have issued two ultimatums to the Musa administration.

George Frazer, Gen. Sec., NTUCB
?One that government repeal or review the tax measures and two that they pay the teachers and public officers their full five and eight percent raise, if not the whole thing will come crashing down.?

Janelle Chanona
?When you say ?things will come crashing down? specifically what new action will be taken??

George Frazer
?From what came out of the meeting, all the social partners will effect a complete shutdown of the country, even the business sector from what I understood.?

Today the Christian Workers Union called for ?absolute stoppage of work? to members employed by the Social Security Board, the Development Finance Corporation, the Central Bank of Belize, the Belize and Belmopan City Councils, the National Sports Council, the Port Authority, First Caribbean Bank and all stevedores.

Antonio Gonzalez
?We started this action from today and based on the negotiations, failure of trying to get any settlement with the government, it appears that we will support as long as we could, as long as we have the support from our membership.?

Barbara Young, Member, CWU
?I?m out here to join our voices and our hearts in solidarity with the rest of the nation as we cry out against this national crisis that is facing us. The Christian Workers Union is just making their stand and as employees of the Central Bank, we are members of the CWU and we are here in solidarity that we shall not be moved. We want the taxes to be rolled back, we want the teachers and the public servants to get their just raise and we want the reforms and we want it now. We shall not be moved until those changes come about. Let me hear you.?

?We shall not be moved.?

Thurnica Middleton, Member, CWU
?I?m an employee of Social Security Board.?

Janelle Chanona
?And you are prepared not to go to work until this whole thing is resolved??

Thurnica Middleton
?Yes, until our congress tells us to go back to work, then we will go back to work.?

Theola Casimiro, Member, CWU
?We need to make a stand as Belizeans and stand firm until what we want is accomplished. We will not be moved.?

?I am totally against the taxes. I can hardly even live without the taxes; imagine what it will be like with the taxes. I can?t handle the taxes; there is no way I can. So I am totally against the taxes.?

While unions have been quick to disassociate themselves from any political affiliation, Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow says it is his constitutional mandate to be involved in this process.

Dean Barrow
?In terms of what?s happening, there doesn?t seem to be any solution in sight. I have to call on the Prime Minister to accept the two demands that are outstanding from the social partners. Roll back the taxes at least until April first, that is when the financial year starts in any event and traditionally that is when taxes take effect, this going two or three months early is what has resulted in the crisis. It has to be fairly easy for him to say we will roll back until April the first, while the dialogue continues, in terms of finding a permanent solution. And with respect to the paying of the increased salaries, again I believe that the government needs to commit to that. My point is that government has to find a way and government can find a way to get us out of this crisis.?

Among those union officials meeting with government representatives this evening were Dylan Reneau, Anthony Fuentes, Russel Young, Mark Butler and Zenaida Moya. Representing Government was Minister of National Development Assad Shoman and Financial Secretary Carla Barnett.

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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