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May 20, 2004

B.S.I. won’t budge; union protests

What appears to be the final negotiating session between the Belize Worker’s Union and Belize Sugar Industries Ltd. ended today with no agreement on a new contract. In the meeting, B.S.I. made a detailed presentation on why it could not offer any salary increases this year, citing low world prices, imminent loss of European Union preferences, and several years of unprofitability. According to B.W.U. chair Rene Gomez, while his union recognizes those realities he believes that there are a number of wasteful practices that B.S.I. could change that would allow the company to grant salary increases. During the meeting, the union radically trimmed its proposals from a ten percent across the board wage hike to a five percent increase for tradesmen, three percent for operators and skilled workers, and a one-time two-percent bonus for labourers.

In the end, B.S.I. stuck to its guns and did not budge from its original call for a one-year wage freeze, although it did agree to at least consider some future movement on peripheral issues like pension improvements and elimination of anomalies in the wage structure. The B.W.U. has called a protest march for Friday afternoon at Tower Hill and has scheduled a press conference for nine a.m. on Tuesday at union headquarters in Orange Walk. At that time, the public will be informed about the union’s next move, including the possibility of industrial action. When asked if B.S.I. could cope with a strike, B.S.I.’s Director of Finance, Alvaro Alpuche, told News 5 that “The company is fully prepared to face the consequences of its actions.” There are approximately four more weeks left in the cane grinding season.


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