The Belize City Council is in another spot of bother today after reports that its efforts to privatize and reorganize its security department under a trusted employee have run into an unforeseen snag – the Christian Worker’s Union.
The CWU, whose sprawling national membership covers interests as diverse as banana pickers and office workers, is the bargaining unit of record for employees of the Belize City Council, and it says it was not informed of plans to make redundant 36 security officers with effect from February 1, 2014.
CWU President and attorney, Audrey Matura-Shepherd says the council failed to recognize certain legal obligations to the employees, including ensuring that there is a successful transition to the new company headed by former Security Department head Hiram Longsworth. What has not helped, she added, is the Council’s cavalier attitude with regard to keeping the CWU informed.
“We wrote to the Mayor, to the Tripod Tie body and to the Labour Commissioner. According to the legislation, no matter whether you have a union or not you must inform the Labour Commissioner. We have requested information from the Labour Commissioner to see if they were informed and they said tat they were never informed. What one Labour officer explained to us was that sometime last week when the letter was written, they got a call from city hall saying that if you want to make a post redundant, if this is the way to do it and read a letter on the phone asking, would this wording in the letter suffice? The person said, yes, not knowing the magnitude of that. I am sorry, but that does not amount to informing the Labour Commissioner and worse, it does not amount in the time limit at the point you don’t even inform the Labour office. it would have been after the fact and the law is clear that as the moment or the minute the circumstances arise, that you don’t even have to contemplate that; you need to call in key people”.
The Council insists in its reply to CWU General Secretary Floyd Neal, two days after it met with the employees to inform them of its plans, that it contacted the Labour Department as required and says it was not required to do anything more. Matura-Shepherd meanwhile claims that call was a request on how to word the letter of redunancy/termination, not a formal notice.
She maintains that the Council did not give a commitment that the new company would rehire the employees, or that jobs in alternative departments would be offered. Meanwhile, tomorrow, Friday, is the last day on the job for many of the 36 officers. Officer Jamie Yearwood told reporters that he does not feel comfortable with ex-boss Hiram Longsworth in charge.
“I have license to carry gun, yet not being paid to do so. Dehn dih get lat outta we fuh less as it is. Yet, they beleev that privatization da de bes way tu go. I find it very strange that the Mayor could boast that he dih build 200 cancreet streets and trip pahn weh cas millians a dalaaz and yet cannot pay 36 people. E dih hal ova de cantrac tu Hiram Longsworth. If the mayor keahn do it wid a millians, how Hiram cud do it? Weh we wah geh pay? Fu we pay don smal; nobady put notn eenah writin when we wah geh pay, bo’ yet we just jump, just limp, and we no nuoh when we wa geh pay. Dehn neva discuss nottin with security affisaaz, bo’ yet they claim the did”.
Mr. Yearwood went on to criticize the performance of Mr. Longsworth, saying that he failed to lobby effectively for his employees with Council management.
Another affected employee, Mr. Noel Mejia, would have completed five years on the job in February and served since 2012 as Mayor Darrell Bradley’s personal guard at his residence. He claims the Mayor personally told him he would take care of him.
“I was his security at his residence for almost a year. I put it to him one day saying, Mayor, I have heard rumors that the Security is going to be privatized. “It is not finalized”- that was his response. I told him, “Mayor, I want to continue to work with the Belize City Council as a special constable and I want to continue with you at your residence until your term of office is finished”. He said, “no problem”,- that was his response. I got a letter from the Belize City council that said that redundancy and whole latta ting and…we wish you well in your future endeavours…so that sounds like I don’t have a job from the time that they tell me, move on is find sohnting else “.
According to the CWU president, there is a road map towards ending the impasse.
Ms. Audrey Matura-Shepherd: “The solution forward would be that (1) that they put on hold the termination until we have had the proper consultation with the Union and the Labour Commissioner, (2) that that be placed on hold for at least a month to give us time to discuss; (3) that as many as possible, security officers are to be taken back into employment and those that cannot be taken back into employment, that we negotiate with the council a transition package wherein they would have some cushion of finances onto they could move on to their other job, and I think you will need something at least from four to six months to hold you over until you can get a job and (4) that they get a recommendation for the work that they apply for if they are not one to be absorbed into the system”.,.