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Dec 3, 2004

Agreement finally signed at Port

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It was a roller coaster of a day for those involved in the lucrative task of handling cargo at the Belize City Port…and News 5′s Patrick Jones chronicled the ups and downs that preceded a last minute settlement of the dispute.

Oswin Blease, Operations Manager, Port of Belize Limited

?I am the one who ceased the operations at the pier head after the stevedores stormed one of our security gates. And I then I gave my operations supervisors to cease operations.?

Patrick Jones, Reporting

For over five hours today things came to a stand still at the Belize City Port on Caesar Ridge Road as hundreds of stevedores, some of whom were prevented from reporting to work, stood up to the private owners of the facility.

Oswin Blease

?I was given a directive to work this vessel and that?s what I prepared to do.?

Patrick Jones

?Work this vessel, but with who, with which workers??

Oswin Blease

?With the port workers.?

But the workers represented by the Christian Workers Union banded together and made it known in no uncertain terms, that they would not stand for anyone else offloading and loading the only ship that made a port call today. When it looked like things would get out of hand, police and BDF soldiers descended on the compound to ensure that no one stepped out of line. Shortly before midday, CWU president Antonio Gonzalez emerged from a series of closed door meetings, to give the stevedores the bad news.

Antonio Gonzalez, President, CWU

?We didn?t get through anything. But during that break, we had a recess the acting Ports Commissioner Major Swazo called me and he said that our workers would work the ship and that the MOU would be signed this afternoon. I just received a call from Mr. Ghandi and along with Mr. Ghandi and must be in Belmopan was Mr. Luke Espat. And he is adamant; he has stick to his point saying that he wants his workers to work the ship and not the stevedores. We told him we stick by our position that we want our stevedores to work the ship; we are prepared to sign the employment form right now; and we?re also prepared to sign the MOU this afternoon.?

With that said, the back and forth escalated to where at one point the port owners said that they were prepared to send the ship back without its intended cargo. Gonzalez says that earlier in the day, he also sought the intervention of the Prime Minister.

Antonio Gonzalez

?The meeting with the Prime Minister this morning, he tried to persuade Mr. Luke Espat in a similar fashion to let the workers, the current stevedores, or the regular stevedores work the ship. Again, he refused to the request from the Prime Minister.?

When diplomacy failed, the stevedores used their collective presence to register their dissatisfaction with the way the port management was attempting to run rough shod over them. Patrick Jones for News 5.

But while chances for reconciliation looked as bleak as the weather, late this afternoon, president of the Christian Workers Union Antonio Gonzalez informed News 5 that the two sides had come to terms and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Under the ten-point agreement, Port of Belize agreed to recognise the Christian Workers Union as the sole bargaining agent for the stevedores, and each of the workers employed previously by the Belize Waterfront Employers Association would be allowed to apply for a job with Port of Belize Limited, retroactive to December first. PBL also agreed that it would not tamper with the salaries of the stevedores and that at a future date, the two sides will sit down to negotiate fees to be paid for loading and unloading services. Signing on behalf of Port of Belize Limited was its owner Luke Espat and CEO Francine Waight. Signatories for the CWU were its president, along with members Delfin Munoz and Raymond McKay Junior. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding was witnessed by Labour Commissioner Paul Williams.

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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