What started as a meeting with soon to be temporarily terminated employees of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) Monday morning erupted into a sustained display of rage and frustration with the Belize City Council and Mayor Darrell Bradley. As we have reported, the Council is eighteen weeks behind schedule on payments to BML for its work in Belize City. Even as it insists that it intends to pay when it can, the Council is talking about a transition to a plan that appears to cut BML entirely out of the sanitation picture in Belize City. Unfortunately, that threatens the jobs of about 170 employees, many single parents who have nowhere else to turn. Their cries reached the ears of activist Delroy Herrera, who orchestrated a meeting at the company’s offices on Baymen Avenue Monday morning. He started out by explaining why the Mayor was not being truthful about whether the Council was in contact with BML regarding its plans.
“The Mayor is openly telling lies. Yes, the Mayor paid one week, but the Mayor is still in arrears of 18 weeks. Right now we have an exact figure of 170 staff who work here at BML. Out of the 170 we have several of them who transition from the nineties from Belize City Council to ACL, and from ACL to BML. Most of these workers right here, they need to be paid their severance pay at the end of the barrel of the gun, in January 2015. They need to get paid. If the Mayor cares about these people, then why is the mayor not up-to-date with his payments. This company right here, BML, could get ready to start calculating these people’s severance pay, if so be the case they will not renew the contract as he has stated.”
A BML worker was the first to plea her case for keeping her job.
[Paraphrased] “We keep the City clean. We can’t go home and tell our children we have nothing to give them to eat. When we get up we wonder where we are getting food for our children to eat. Every day when we don’t have it they cry. What are we to do, steal and rob people, or burn down a house? What do you want us to do? Come on! We’re taking licks out here. Watch what I am eating; biscuit and sausage. I can’t even get water to wash down the biscuit. The biscuit is choking me.”
Following the briefing on Baymen the group travelled across town to City Hall on North Front Street.
The simmering frustration of the affected workers, 50 of whom were temporarily sent home as of Monday morning, reached boiling point when the company bus and a garbage truck arrived at City Hall. As has happened before, BML employees began to strew garbage on North Front Street itself in front of City Hall, and refused to clean it up. BML supervisor Deon Danderson stated that this was not what they had planned and hoped for.
“As the public is already aware, we’re owed 18 weeks pay by Belize City Council. Prior to last week we were paid one week, but prior to that it was six weeks we hadn’t been paid on a weekly basis. It has come to a point that we are unable to put some of the trucks on the street. They are presently in the yard right now, in need of parts. We have about four trucks in the yard right now that need parts [costing] approximately eight thousand dollars. This is the last thing we would have wanted to do is to send people home. It’s a temporary thing, but we have to do it, because we cannot pay people. We cannot have people work and they don’t get their pay. So, we send them home, and then whenever we’re paid by City Council then we would reimburse them whatever time they were off from work. So that’s the situation right now.”
Dean Danderson added that the last meeting between the Mayor personally and owner and managing director of BML Lawrence Ellis was a year ago, and opined that the Council simply cannot do BML’s contract work as cheaply as it is predicting.
There was a standoff in front of City Hall for several hours as the workers defiantly maintained their position in the face of police officers guarding the entrance and this warning from Assistant Commissioner of Police Edward Broaster.
Edward Broaster – Senior Superintendent
“What you all are doing here is an illegal gathering here and you all are littering the street. Just because you all are fighting for your rights means that you will break the law doing so.”
Person in Crowd
“We are not breaking the law.”
Edward Broaster – Senior Superintendent
“You all are breaking the law. You all are doing an illegal gathering and littering the street, so I am asking you all to pick up this garbage and disperse.”
That warning was not heeded and the police proceeded to detain as many as 44 workers and impound both vehicles at the Queen Street Police Station. Monday afternoon police are expecting to lay charges against those involved for illegally gathering in front of City Hall and littering a public roadway. PUP activist and talk show host Albert Vaughan is also in custody. Set against the backdrop of the battle of the elephants – Belize City Council and Belize Maintenance Limited – are the pleas of the workers to be affected by the Council’s move. We spoke to a few of them.
“I have four kids, one going to high school, and three going to primary school. Up to now , I haven’t bought anything for them, yet. If [the Mayor] doesn’t pay our boss, the our boss cannot pay us. So he has to pay the boss.
“This happened before with Belize Waste Control. Now they keep the payment from my boss. What are we going to do? I pay fifteen weeks out of my pocket and he doesn’t give me any money I’ve got four kids, too.”
“Mr Mayor, we respect you, but as long as you don’t pay my boss he don’t pay me. So how will I eat, if you don’t pay my boss? I gone out there yesterday and I vote for you, you and your candidates.”