By Alexis R. Milan Staff Reporter
Negotiations between the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the Belize City Council (BCC) have broken down, and as a result the Labor Commissioner has intervened and called an impasse.
During the course of the meeting between the two parties, the CWU had made four proposals to BCC. The first proposal was to get any worker eligible full disability and medical benefits.
The second proposal was to acquire severance benefits for workers who were just a few days shy of completing five years with BCC.
The third proposal was for the workers who would be unemployed after the redundancy to receive a recommendation from BCC to help them find new employment.
The fourth proposal was for a compassionate package which would apply to workers with less than five years’ employment with the BCC to receive 12 more weeks of their salary, and for workers with more than five but less than 10 years to receive eight more weeks of their salary in addition to whatever benefits they are entitled to.
According to CWU President Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the compassionate package, which would have been paid to only nine workers, would have amounted to less than $20,000, whereas the council has declared that through the redundancy it would be saving more than $350,000.
Shepherd said Mayor Darrel Bradley had initially agreed to the first three proposals, but the negotiations started to break down when Bradley refused to accept the fourth proposal.
As a result of the breakdown, Labor Commissioner Ivan Williams was forced to declare an impasse, meaning that all proposals are now off the table.
Shepherd explained that Bradley threatened that if the CWU insisted on the fourth proposal, he would refuse proposal one and three.
At this point, the Labor Commissioner declared that he would invoke his statutory powers under the law.
He informed Bradley that he would be making certain inquiries so that he would be able to make a ruling of his own, according to the law, Matura-Shepherd recounted.
Bradley reportedly told Williams that he would not answer his questions and told him that he needed time to put into writing what he wanted to say, and did not allow Williams to ask a single question.
Williams’ response to Bradley was that he also needed time, and declared the terminations are suspended until next Wednesday. But Bradley fervently disagreed with that declaration, and soon after walked out of the meeting.
Matura said she then stayed behind and asked the Labor Commissioner if he would put his decision in writing. Williams replied that he would do so on Friday.
Matura-Shepherd said she does not know what information the Labor Commissioner will be requesting from the Belize City Council, but she knows that Williams has to investigate into whether or not proper procedures were followed, according to the law.
The Reporter attempted to contact Mayor Bradley after the meeting for a response but was unable to reach him.
The City Administrator, Candice Burke, commented that the Belize City Council has been making every effort to negotiate with the CWU, but the council felt the request for a compassionate package was “unreasonable.”
Burke said the Council is still prepared to negotiate, “but as of now, negotiations are back to square one”.
Burke added that BCC would carry on with its termination of the workers as planned.
When asked about the allegation that the Labor Commissioner had intervened to block that from happening she said that she was not present for the last 10 minutes of the meeting when that exchange supposedly played out.
Last week, the CWU came to the defense of Security Workers who were informed by the BCC that their services were being made redundant. They were given their termination letters, which was misleadingly dated for two weeks before they actually received them, the following day.
This was the initial point of contention for the CWU, who maintained that under the Labor Act, the BCC was mandated to inform the workers of the redundancy process no less than a month before the scheduled termination date.
On Monday, the Mayor met with the Labor Commissioner and at the Commissioner’s request the terminations, which were originally scheduled for last Friday were extended to this Friday.