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May 19, 2004

Union on go-slow at sugar factory

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Collective bargaining is an integral part of our economic system, and tonight that institution is being put to the test in one of the nation’s most important industries. For over three decades king cane has reigned at the top of Belize’s export hierarchy and while it has recently been overtaken by tourism and seafood production, there is no doubt that sugar–which produced around seventy-three million dollars in revenues last year–is a crucial part of our economic mix. That’s why all eyes are on the north as a determined Belize Workers Union has initiated a go-slow in the face of what it calls intransigence on the part of Belize Sugar Industries. According to B.W.U. Chairman, Rene Gomez, the B.S.I. workers have requested a ten percent wage increase retroactive to January first, 2004 when their old contract expired. B.S.I. has responded with a proposal for a one-year wage freeze, citing four consecutive years of losses, low world prices, and the bleak prospect of a likely end to preferential treatment on the European market. The go-slow instituted at the Tower Hill factory has workers performing their duties at a twenty-five percent reduction in speed. “If they don’t move, we won’t move,” says union chairman Rene Gomez, who told News 5 that B.S.I. has not even made a counter offer. Gomez cites large capital expenditures being made by the company as evidence that they can afford to pay workers more.

Speaking for B.S.I., Director of Finance Alvaro Alpuche says the go-slow is not having an effect on production, with supervisors ensuring that the non-stop grinding of cane continues on schedule. Alpuche explained that the company is projected to show a profit of around a half million dollars this year, on production of one hundred and fifteen thousand tons, but that is largely due to the high value of the Euro and increased exports to CARICOM. With worldwide shipping rates doubling and early rains hurting harvesting efforts, Alpuche says even that small profit may not materialize. We hope that the Union will see reason” he told News 5. The two sides are scheduled to meet on Thursday for what was supposed to be their final negotiating session.


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