The Christian Worker’s Union (CWU) elected a new executive in December of 2013, after months of turmoil surrounding the presidency of Antonio Gonzalez, who stood down after members accused him of poor performance on the job.
A little over a year later, a union in ruins and on the outs with its parent the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) has engineered a turnaround, thanks to the work of President Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who came to the post with no labour experience.
Nonetheless she counts several coups, including the successful transitions of security officers and former employees with Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) out of and into the Belize City Council respectively.
She told us more at a press briefing on Wednesday.
“We have a payment scheme now in place with NTUCB to pay off our outstanding dues. Yes we still owe them, but we remain current for the year 2014, and for 2015 we will be able to write off one cheque and pay them spot cash. That’s how good we’ve become.
We have shown, however, that our union is keen on representing the interest of our members and ensure justice for our workers. Those who follow the news will note two of our major achievements for our workers: First our stance to ensure that all security officers from the Belize City Council were provided with the wages and job security they are lawfully entitled to, as the Security Services moved from the Council to a private sector. We stood strong, and despite the head-on collisions, we emerged victorious for the workers.
Then there was the debacle of the BML workers, who would have remained jobless as part of the collateral damage of the fight between BML and the Belize City Council. CWU steadfastly unionized those workers and acted as their representative in the transition period from BML to Belize City Council.
We must say that despite hints previously given by Mayor of the City, His Worship Lord Darrell Bradley, that he could not absorb them as promised by the Prime Minister, it turns out that they have kept their promise, and we really want to publically congratulate him and thank [him] for ensuring those jobs.”
According to Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the Union is either close to or in the process of negotiating collective bargaining agreements with the many organizations tied to the CWU, from Social Security to the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA); because of her work with their employees, she noted, she cannot accept any post with the BSCFA itself and denied reports of being asked to be their attorney; she does represent Lucilo Teck in his ongoing suit against sugar authorities. But back to the Union, who is now up to date with its dues to the NTUCB. A familiar face has joined the Union as its Labour Relations Officer, tasked with being the liaison between the CWU executive and the various bargaining units of the Union. He is former civil servant Earl Jones.
“I’ve been given the opportunity to serve as the Labour Relations Officer for the Christian Workers’ Union. It’s a tremendous responsibility I have been given, but I know that joining the team of dedicated leaders of this union, to work in serving the union or in taking the Union from strength to strength, will not be an easy road. However, as a team we can definitely make success of it.
From what the President has just mentioned, the Union has grown from strength to strength over the past year, and there’s still growth projected where the Union is concerned, and I know that with her leadership, and others within the Union, we definitely will take this Union into a new level.
We’re also, I feel, very proud [to be] serving the many hard-working Belizeans in this country, and I would hope that many others who are not Union members would be able to join on to the Union, to be able to become a part of the Christian Workers’ Union as well.”
One of the biggest hurdles the CWU still has to clear is the one that brought Audrey Matura-Shepherd to head the Union in 2013: the long-standing dispute between stevedores and the Port of Belize Limited. According to Matura-Shepherd she wanted an opportunity to consult with stevedores and acquaint herself fully with her duties before jumping into negotiations. She now says she is ready to lead those negotiations.
Trustee for the Union and leading stevedore Dion Pitter says workers are now reviewing proposals for the CBA, and believes the upheaval that ousted Antonio Gonzalez and ex-general secretary James McFoy helped workers understand their rights.
[Paraphrased] “We looked on the collective bargaining agreement that we had with the agency, we looked on the proposal report put forward, and we created our proposal. They had their position, we had our position, and we talked over that. So that was the spot we were in.
We steered our own ship. We meet together with Mr. Neal, discuss, put everything on the table, when we have finalized that Audrey will proof check everything, we’ll move to the stevedores, and from then on to the port.
It’s a learning process for all of us, and during this we still learnt, but that had to happen to make us change the leadership, because it was never right.”
Union General Secretary Floyd Neal says a variety of documents are being used to fashion the proposals made by the workers.