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Jul 22, 2020

Port of Belize Fires 36 Workers, Mayhem Ensues

Mayhem broke out at the port and escalated mid afternoon in the shooting of a stevedore.  As early as six-thirty, buses blocked the entrance of the compound of the Port of Belize. It was anticipated that thirty-six staff members were to be terminated and so union members came out in solidarity.  The police and the Gang Suppression Union were also called out to stem any acts of violence. But as the tensions escalated Trevor Jones was shot by the GSU, which also tear gassed the crowd.  For two weeks now, the stevedores have been protesting salary cuts, but the turmoil this afternoon was about the termination staff members of the C.W.U.  The PBL maintains that the economic downturn has caused redundancy. Tonight, we have full coverage of the events. Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a first report.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A peaceful protest by redundant employees of the Port of Belize Ltd. during midday, quickly erupted into sheer bedlam when elements of the Belize Police Department turned on the gathering of terminated union members who sat on the compound.  Rubber bullets, as well as tear gas, were fired into the crowd and they responded by throwing projectiles of their own.

 

Guy Neal

Guy Neal, Waterfront Worker

“We deh een deh peacefully di sihdown.  Wih call Chester [Williams] again, Chester tell the president, “You all can stay on the compound without no violence until the injunction is passed.  Japheth and ih crowd dehn, one cohn and he seh ih only di tell wih fi move and ih noh care afta dat.  Then dehn staat to shoot.  One ah dehn had ih gun point eena my back and my friend knock it off, I noh even quite know, right.  So we began to slowly retreat out of the compound.  Then now some ah di people dehn start to retaliate with rock and stone because dehn done trigger it off.”

 

During the mayhem that ensued, several persons were shot and seriously injured with non-lethal rounds.  The confrontation is the latest in the tumultuous working relationship between the Christian Workers Union and the Port of Belize Limited.  The CWU is the representative body for stevedores, including thirty-six members who were sent home at eleven a.m.

 

Guy Neal

“So wih have bout six people get shot.  Ah think mi president supposed to get [em] burn up too, right.  Ah call Chester [Williams] again and ah tell ahn weh di happen.  Soh, coming back down, ah gaan park mi bike yonder.  Coming back down ah di give Japheth di phone, ah tell ahn di ComPol wahn talk to ahn, ih noh wahn tek it.  He have wahn notha, look ya, he deh right backa dehn, ih point it eena mi belly and tell me dress back.  Ah seh, “Boss, you sih I got anything?  You sih I di throw anything.  Soh ah gaan back, ah tell Chester, “Di man [di] look fi shoot me, yoh know.”  Dehn noh wahn hyah dat.”

 

Fortunately for Guy Neal, a lifelong stevedore, he was unharmed during the melee.  The same cannot be said for his colleagues.  But how did both parties, PBL and CWU, arrive at this violent crossroad?  According to President Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde, things fell apart several weeks ago.

 

Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde

Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde, President, Christian Workers Union

“It didn’t begin as redundancies.  It began as a decision made by Port, without any input from CWU, that in order to deal with the impact of the pandemic that we would have to cut the earnings of our members by ten percent.  And our response, based on consensus from our members was [that] we’ll have a conversation of compromise but we need to have transparency and that has led us to where we are today because the staff said, to discuss sacrifice, to discuss compromise, to discuss any reduction in earnings, we need to be able to independently verify what the position of the company is so there’s a need for transparency.”

 

That need for complete openness is supported by the Attorney General’s office which represents the Labour Department in the matter.  Notwithstanding letters being served earlier, the Government of Belize is in the CWU’s corner where transparency is concerned.

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“This is one of the issues that the stevedores had, if you’re saying that you’re in such financial constraints then show us the figures.  Show us the figures that tell us how badly you are doing and by refusing to do that and by displaying bad faith, we felt that they just wanted to punish these people because they feel that they had the right to stand up and speak for their rights.  We had to side with the stevedores, we had no choice, especially since these people provide an essential service.”

 

According to Hyde, despite an attempt by the Labour Department to bring both parties to the table, PBL refused to dialogue on the issue of its finances, as well as its fiscal performance, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde

“The Ministry of Labor was unable to get them to participate in a conversation and we started a lunch protest.  We have protested during the lunch for about fourteen days, hoping that that would trigger a response from the company to say, “Listen, this is not going away.  Let us sit down.  Instead, what it did was to provoke an even stronger response.”

 

That response, says Hyde, resulted in a unilateral decision by the Port of Belize to reduce salaries by ten percent.

 

Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde

“Most legal opinions we have gotten so far indicate [that] they have violated our members and their right to wage protection.  So that was the original issue where then we had the security people who are essential service, not the staff, to put the twenty-one day notice seeking a tribunal through the Ministry of Labor so that the matter can be dealt with there.  In the midst of doing that and protesting, the company decided, “Okay, we are going to make a case of redundancy where we are now seeking to terminate thirty-six workers, twenty-nine of which are union members, four of which are our reps.”

 

Those terminations proceeded as scheduled with Chief Operating Officer Pablo Salinas reiterating that the redundancies are the result of a forty-one percent fall in revenue precipitated by the global economic downturn associated with COVID-19. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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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