The stevedores employed at the Belize Port Limited decided to institute industrial action against their employer, the Port of Belize Limited, on Wednesday, June 27. Two gangs of stevedores, who had been loading a ship in Belize City harbor, with sugar, began a go-slow.
The Port, which is under a receivership management, would not countenance the industrial action and suspended work on the vessel.
According to Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the Christian Workers Union, which represents about 200 stevedores, the contention is over the Port’s failure to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the stevedores.
Gonzalez said they have not got anywhere in several meetings with the Port management since the beginning of this year. “We are always being given some excuse that the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Arturo Vasquez, is out of the country.”
Gonzalez said the Port’s skeleton team is coming to the negotiating table without any authority.
“We have become frustrated. The stevedores are pressing us for the closure of the negotiations and to have a collective bargaining agreement in place.”
On June 25, Gonzalez said that the union presented four proposals to the Port management.
“The first proposal was about retirement. The second was about retroactive wages from 2006. The third was about the composition of the gangs. The Port management wanted to reduce the gang size, while we wanted to maintain the status quo of the gangs. And fourthly, we wanted to implement an insurance plan for stevedores, given the risk factors and kind of work that they perform.”
Gonzalez said that after their proposals were put to the Port management, they were told that they could not meet again until July 3.
When the union did meet again with management, it was only to be told that the three-person team representing the Port management could not make any decision.
“The stevedores got frustrated and decided that some kind of industrial action is needed to urge the Port management to come to an agreement.”
When asked about the status of the negotiations Gonzalez said the Commissioner of Labor invited the union on Thursday to a meeting to see how the standoff could be resolved.
Gonzalez said the stevedores voiced their concerns at the meeting and demanded that the Port pay them a full day’s pay for the work they did on Tuesday. “The Port only wanted to pay the workers for five hours. But we said no, we want the full- shift pay, plus two meals”, Gonzalez said.
“We agreed with the Labor Commissioner to resume the work at 6:00 p.m. today, Thursday.”
Gonzalez said their union has been pressing to get a collective bargaining agreement signed since the Port went into receivership, but without success.
“The only time we had a collective bargaining agreement was when the agents were responsible for the vessels”, Gonzalez said.
The port’s management, however, issued a press release on Thursday to state that the negotiations spawned from the framework agreement, which it signed in March with the CWU, have “been progressing as scheduled.”
PBL added that the “unexpected and surprising actions by the stevedores and the CWU create an unnecessary disruption to a process which … is progressing as discussed and planned by both parties.