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CWU holds peaceful rally

Photo: Leonora Flowers, president of the CWU

by Marco Lopez 

BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 19, 2023 

Last Friday, representatives of the Christian Workers’ Union staged a peaceful rally in front of the Port of Belize LTD (PBL) compound in Belize City. Despite pushback from the port’s owners, the Ashcroft Alliance, the permit was granted to the CWU to conduct the rally, which ended at noon after a late start. The day’s activities continued at the Rogers Stadium. This peaceful show of strength by the CWU preempts, possibly, a more animated demonstration – since a 21-day notice issued to the Ministry of Labor is fast drawing to its expiration date on June 30. Today, 11 days remain until this notice expires, at which time the stevedores and union will likely take to the streets. 

President of the CWU, Leonora Flowers told local media that the union had no choice but to issue the notice of strike. She explained that the employer, PBL, has continuously refused to comply with the directive of the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal (ESAT), which on January 27, 2022, ruled that there was a loss suffered by the stevedores, as a result of the transfer of sugar-loading operations to the Big Creek port.

The release from the government at the time ordered “That the parties forthwith commence negotiations for payment under the Redundancy Package as agreed between the parties on the 6 March 2020.” The port has stalled these negotiations, refusing to come to the table, the CWU president said. “There was a time when we sat at the table to negotiate – the port was not there. We can’t talk to ourselves,” Flowers said.

 She explained that the employers have said they recognize the decision of the ESAT, but failed to take the next steps to quantify the losses suffered by stevedores as part of the negotiation requirement. She maintains that the port has flatly refused to comply with the ruling of the tribunal, and calls on the company to abide by the ruling. 

She mentioned that the Ministry of Labour has had a lukewarm approach in addressing the plight of the stevedores, adding that it would appear that the government is failing to step forward on behalf of the workers. This gave them no choice but to issue the notice of strike, which was not acknowledged until 7 days after its issuance.  

The union was informed that the Minister of Labor, Hon. Oscar Requena has been apprised of the situation, yet he had made no effort to reach out to the union at the time of the rally. What Flowers considered a shocking and unorthodox approach by the Labor Ministry, was when a person came physically to the location of the rally to inform the CWU president that the Labour Commissioner would like to speak. 

(AMANDALA Ed. Note: In a leaked letter from attorneys for Ashcroft’s Port of Belize to Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams last Thursday, June 15, they referred to the “Re-Permission Granted to CWU to Demonstrate”, and asked Williams to “urgently reconsider the decision”, citing concerns that “the demonstration will lead to violence” and “damage to its property.” Apparently the demonstration went smoothly.)