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Feb 25, 2004

B.T.L. workers stage sickout

Belize Telecommunications Limited offices throughout the country were largely empty today as close to three hundred employees, well over half the total work force, called in sick. No, there was no mass epidemic or mysterious virus affecting the staff, but exactly what caused the absences depends on whom you believe. According to B.T.L. management, it was a planned operation by the Belize Communications Workers Union as a way of applying pressure for a new collective bargaining agreement. According to the company’s press release, meetings with the union have been ongoing and the next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March second. Therefore, today’s action was, quote, “wholly unwarranted and uncalled for.” B.T.L. says what the staff did is illegal as it amounts to a strike, in direct contravention to the Settlement of Disputes in Essential Services Act. The company ominously reminds employees that anyone who was not at work today, on the grounds of pre-planned sickness, was not only in breach of the act, but is also subject to the penalties contained therein. But that’s a position the Belize Communications Workers Unions strongly denies. According to President of the B.C.W.U., Paul Perriott, all the B.T.L. employees who did not show up at work today did so out of frustration and not at the behest of the union. Quote “We did not plan anything.” Perriott says the members he represents are fed up by the fact that even after months of attempting to settle on a new collective bargaining agreement with B.T.L. and the Government, all they’ve been getting is the run-around. The existing agreement expired at the end of September 2003. Perriott says the employees are totally within their rights as they have twelve uncertified sick days a year to use as they deem fit and one of those days is what they used today. As to rumours that those same employees and perhaps more would also be feeling sick on Friday, Perriott says, quote “if they do, they have the right to do so.” According to the company, two hundred eighty-two B.T.L employees did not show up to work today. A release late this evening by the B.C.W.U. called B.T.L.’s attitude “grossly disrespectful” and called on government to act “urgently and fairly” to make B.T.L. adhere to the collective bargaining process. That same government, it must be noted, is now the majority owner of B.T.L., although it hopes to sell all its shares to Innovative Communication Company following the completion of a due diligence period which ends next month.

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