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Jul 30, 2020

P.B.L. Withdraws Request for Stevedores to Return to Work

Back to the port, meetings were held today between the parties seeking a way forward and it is expected that activity would resume in the next few days pending the arrival of cargo vessels.  At this meeting, the Port of Belize put the cards on the table now that the Prime Minister has said that he is considering nationalization.  P.B.L. informed that in the case of nationalization, it would put forward a claim eighty-five million dollars.  As you know from the past nationalizations of B.T.L. and the Registry, the matter would go to arbitration in a very lengthy process.  But before the meeting, the P.B.L. announced that it has withdrawn its request for stevedores to return to work while negotiations take place.  The Port has written to the Labour Commissioner and C.W.U. President Evan “Mose” Hyde informing them of the decision.  The matter of a C.B.A. is a sticking point for the C.W.U.  So, the P.B.L. has requested a meeting with the C.W.U. and the Labour Department to discuss the draft staff collective bargaining agreement counter-proposal from P.B.L., stevedore work-hour draft proposal, and stevedore grievance and disciplinary procedure proposals. On Wednesday, Labour Minister, Senator Doctor Carla Barnett stressed the importance of having the port operational and how much the dispute is costing the Belizean economy.


Carla Barnett

Dr. Carla Barnett, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labor,

“It is a week that we have not have normal operations at the port and as a result of which the economy is really beginning to feel the effects imports not being able to come in and exports not being able to leave. The conversation that we have been having we’re hoping yield some shift in this in the shortest possible time.  This is a situation that cannot remain at it is. It is not a situation that is in the interest of the company. I have said to both sides. I know I have been accused of taking the side of the union. I don’t take any side. I have to remain independent of both sides. I have to give advice independent of both sides. I have to listen to both sides because at the end of the day the law requires that you act in a certain way. We have ships out there that want to come in, to bring needed goods and services. Yesterday it was a refrigerated ship beginning food stuff. We need to be able to land that. It is not only a matter between port and union. It is matter for the country. It is a matter for all business. It is a matter for all citizens who are waiting for the stuff to come into the country or who are seeking to have their exports sent out.”


In the letter to the PM, signed by Lord Ashcroft, the W.I.B.L. says “it would therefore seem prudent before a further investor dispute crystalizes, which would invariably result in millions of dollars of wasted public money, that if the Government wishes to nationalise P.O.B. for a public purpose, then the parties should sit down together and try to agree a plan for the orderly transfer and handing over of the Port to the Government. W.I.H.L. would even be prepared to assist with the process of framing the nationalisation legislation, so that it is not necessary, as was the case with BTL, for the National Assembly to engage in repeated attempts of enacting suitable legislation to achieve the desired effect. This approach would also hopefully avoid the need for the Government to engage in illegal tactics, such as when the Belize Defence Force forcibly took control of B.T.L. in the dead of night after the initial nationalisation legislation was found by the courts to be unconstitutional and unlawful. WIHL has been advised that the nationalisation of P.O.B. would give rise to a claim under the UK-Belize Bilateral Investment Treaty.  However, rather than draw out the process of valuation and the possibility of hefty accrued interest charges, the parties could simply agree to the arbitration of the claim under the Treaty with each party appointing its own expert. The claim is presently estimated to be in excess of US$85 million with interest accruing thereon from the date of nationalisation until full settlement of the claim.”

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