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C.W.U./Stevedores Stage Peaceful Rally Outside of Port of Belize

Jun 16, 2023

C.W.U./Stevedores Stage Peaceful Rally Outside of Port of Belize

Today, outside of the Port of Belize Limited compound on Caesar Ridge Road, the Christian Workers Union gathered for a peaceful rally. They were issued a permit for the demonstration that was to be held between nine a.m. and twelve o’clock.  Despite the late start, the group cleared the area at midday and finished off the event at Roger’s Stadium in Belize City. The activity comes on the heels of a notice of strike action one week ago by the Christian Workers Union on behalf of the stevedores. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

It’s been one week since the Christian Workers Union, as the bargaining agent for the stevedores, has put the Ministry of Labour on notice of strike action as a result of an impasse in negotiations with Port of Belize Limited. And so today, they organized a rally to send a message to G.O.B. and the port.

Leonora Flowers

Leonora Flowers, President, Christian Workers Union

“Our message is like the song says – solidarity. Solidarity for our stevedores, solidarity for the entire unionized Belize.”

Duane Moody

“The issue at hand. We know that you guys have issued a twenty-one-day notice of strike action as set out by the law. Let’s talk about that.”

Leonora Flowers

“We had no choice than to issue the notice of strike because on the other side we have no one to negotiate with. There was a time when we sat at the table to negotiate – the port was not there. We can’t talk to ourselves. We waited for the ministry to come in. They’ve been slow and I say it’s a lukewarm response that we continue to get. And as Belizeans, as stevedores, as workers participating in the democracy of this country, we deserve better than that. Our stevedores deserve better than that.”

The dispute between stevedores and the port is over what C.W.U. says is P.B.L.’s refusal to abide by the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal Award that was handed down on January twenty-seventh, 2022.  The port has said that the strike notice is unreasonable and that it is based on the union’s misconceived interpretation of the ruling. CWU President Leonora Flowers says that there was loss experienced by the stevedores and the quantum needs to be determined.

Leonora Flowers

“The award says compensation for the loss and there has been a loss. They keep saying that there is no redundancy. The letter says there is a loss of income. That is all we want them to recognise. They have recognised that, but they have failed to do the next step – abide by what the ESAT has decided.”

Duane Moody

“What is the amount that the stevedores are claiming? Do you know?”

Leonora Flowers

“That is to be negotiated. That is why the ESAT said come back to the table and negotiate an award. The port has failed to act on the ESAT. There is certain awards that they should respond to. They have flatly refused. The tribunal has given its directive and they have flatly decided that they will not abide by it. And it would appear that the government who is supposed to have the back of the people is also not stepping up to do what it is supposed to do. So we need to do what is under the law and give the twenty-one days.”

Flowers says that while the ministry had acknowledged receipt of its notice, it was only until today, seven days later that the Labour Commissioner reached out to the union.

Leonora Flowers

“We got an email to say that the notice has been forwarded to the minister and he is aware of the notice. Well we know Saturday, Sunday. Monday we expected a response from the minister, from the government; there has been nothing. Like we say on this side, it has been crickets – it has been completely silent. Now today, when we come out for the peace rally, there was a physical person coming over here to say the LC wants to speak to us. We were blown away by that approach; it is quite unorthodox. But like I said to her, this is on record, we see it as a lukewarm approach to a situation that is untenable.”

Although a number of police officers were on the ground, the event was without incident.

Leonora Flowers

“I can’t speak on behalf of the police. I cannot do that. But maybe they are protecting us. We will say thank you for that. We were asking for additional time, but we knew that it would probably not be afforded to us. It’s just that we got off to a late start, but we are going to move to a new location and we are going to continue with the peaceful rally.”

Fourteen days left to go. Will all parties return to the negotiating table or will stevedores go on strike at the end of the month? Duane Moody for News Five.