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Aug 9, 2004

28 workers jobless at Fishing Co-op

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Twenty-eight people are without a job tonight in the wake of a showdown between labour and management at the National Fishermen Co-op in Belize City. The story, as News 5?s Patrick Jones discovered, is a tale of too many missing tails.

Uldine Gotoy, Former Co-op Employee

?I wah mek them tell we weh the go on and tell we weh we deh pan. I wah know if we got wah job or we noh got wah job. Only that I want them do. If we noh got wah job, well just pay we off and done.?

Uldine Gotoy and the group of other women who are standing up outside the offices of National Fishermen Cooperative on North Front Street are vex…and unsure of their employment status. Since last Thursday, the twenty-four women and four men have been unable to get to their work station, claiming that they have been suspended for stealing from their employer.

Doree Mitchell, Former Co-op Employee

?They searched all ah we lockers, they search up we bag, they feel the floor see if it?s wet and all that. Them noh find nothing. When I gone in there fuh open my locker I see the supervisor the, oh see one yah, oh see one yah like he know directly where the product deh, like he put it there himself. So we gone back in there them tell we wait till the police come. All ah we there the wait fuh the police come.?

The whole furore started when a supervisor found what is alleged to be up to sixty pounds of processed lobster tails hidden inside some reservoir tanks of unused toilets in the ladies bathroom. General Manager of the Cooperative Barbara Bradley says the company has known a while now that workers were pilfering the seafood, but it wasn?t until last Tuesday that they came up with the evidence.

Barbara Bradley, General Manager, National Fishermen Cooperative

?We found the lobster tails in separate bags, say maybe about two, three pound bags. The same tails that they packed in the boxes, the same way they are wrapped in the plastic wrap, fresh tails, in small portions. When we weigh the tails, they came up to about sixty pounds, just for one day. Now I don?t know if they are taking out that amount everyday. But if they are taking out that amount every day, from the fifteenth of June up to last week Wednesday, we?ve been taking a good lick. You will find that at the end of the month, when we check the shrinkage, we have a very high shrinkage. That?s been going on from last year.?

Bradley says that after repeated attempts to find out which of the employees, was responsible for the theft failed, she was left with no alternative but to suspend the entire staff until a decision on the way forward could be worked out by management.

Barbara Bradley

?We had a meeting with them this morning; they came in about a few minutes after then. But what happened, we cannot get anything out of them. All of them, they just hold one head, everybody decide that they won?t say anything. We gave them a number over the weekend that should in case they wanted to call to say anything, at least the ones that are innocent could call and say something, none of them did that. And we were going to accept back thirteen to start working this morning and every body walked through the door and said that if we don?t accept one, all of them going.?

True to their word, the workers walked out of the meeting, which Bradley say means that they have effectively abandoned their jobs. And with over four hundred fishermen bringing in their catch daily, Bradley says the company is already starting to feel the pinch.

Barbara Bradley

?It affects the cash flow, because we need to ship. We need to process the product in order to ship. The season just started on the fifteen of June. And we have a certain amount of products that we need to ship every week. So this week we won?t be able to ship; so it affects the cash flow.?

Patrick Jones

?You said that you were aware that from last year the people were stealing your product. Why wait until now to take this drastic an action? ?

Barbara Bradley

?Because we found the lobster tail. We found the lobster tail in the plant we know that we had a shortage because at the end of each months whenever we check, reconcile the stock, we notice that the shrinkage is very high.?

?As from tomorrow we start taking on new staff, as from tomorrow.?

Patrick Jones

?Any of these people who are out there can come back to work for you??

Barbara Bradley

?Well it depends, I don?t know what management will say, because we gave thirteen of them the opportunity this morning and they walked out.?

While the workers have banded together, some of the women say the atmosphere has been poisoned by allegations of stealing, and that they would prefer to sever ties with the cooperative.

Patrick Jones

?What would you want them to do now??

Doree Mitchell

?I would a want them to pay me for the year weh I deh ya. Because they accuse me a thief and I dah no thief. I noh feel like none ah them ladies dah thief because if them mi the thief, somebody will mi wah see of course.?

Uldine Gotoy

?The supervisor, he dah the one weh gone in a the bathroom. And he dah the one who find the product, the he same one put it deh. Because he dah the one weh gone in a the bathroom and find it. Dah he put it deh. Because he dah wah person–sometimes you see he deh, sometime you see he deh, sometime you see he in a the bathroom. He deh in a the bathroom more than the women them, so dah he must put it there if he deh in a the bathroom more an the woman them.?

While the situation has now deteriorated to a war of words between the workers and employer, Bradley says that unless the Cooperative can reopen the processing plant quickly, it will have serious difficulty meeting its export obligations. Last week?s discovery has managers worrying about shipments already sent to the United States.

Barbara Bradley

?What worries me, because the tails in the box, if they were stealing the tails out of the boxes, whenever the tails reach the States you will find that the boxes will be underweight. And we will have a big problem with that. So I don?t know how long they were stealing the tails from processing room, but I know that they were selling tails for quite a while.?

Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Bradley says that under advice from the Labour Department, benefits due to the workers have already been prepared and those cheques are ready for collection. Late this afternoon News 5 was informed that one of the workers has broken ranks and returned to work.

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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