President of the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU), Audrey Matura-Shepherd, is juggling many issues as the large-sprawling union continues to find its way back from the low points of the presidency of Antonio Gonzalez.
There are threats of an audit of union accounts which we will tell you about shortly, but first to the issue of the long-standing Collective Bargaining Agreement dispute with the Port of Belize Limited, on behalf of the stevedores and waterfront workers.
At a previous briefing, it was stated that the workers were crafting their version of a collective bargaining agreement from several sources, but that did not sit well with the acting general manager and receiver, Arturo Vasquez, who pointed out in his own media interview that the Port has previously agreed to certain matters that it may have to go back on if the workers choose to start over.
While trying to avoid a public quarrel, Audrey Matura-Shepherd on Tuesday said the union is not much concerned about that.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd– President of the Christian Workers’ Union
” I will only say that he has his opinion. We are not going to be bargaining in public, but if he wants us to bargain in public, I will meet his demands and bargain in public.
As it stands CWU has every right to present a CBA to the port, not to Mr. Vasquez personally, he is just a representative there, to the Port Authority and they can choose whether they want to bargain with us or not. The standard has always been that the union sends in a CBA, the employers responds what they agree or don’t agree, and what we don’t agree, we negotiate over.
I think it’s premature for him to say that, because it might be that some of the same things we’ve agreed on will be in there, and it has been agreed upon. But I realize that a lot of men like to act prematurely. I could accept that.”
Now to the question of the audit, of which rumors have been swirling since the CWU’s press briefing held last week. First, Matura-Shepherd pointed out that if the Government through the Tripartite Labour Body wanted to get involved it should have intervened in Gonzalez’s time.
“There is an inquiry being done, and like I said before, the monies that we took over when we came in, to what we’ve collected up to now, will be properly audited and presented at our AGM. We can account for when we took over. We’re trying to fill the gaps for when we were not here, and it’s sad”
Audrey Matura-Shepherd points out that the Union has not been able to piece together all that went on in the presidency of Antonio Gonzalez and James McFoy because the records are not there.
“A basic thing like a loan we made, we have no record to show where’s the resolution that we could have made CWU make a loan, and where those monies went. We only know we paid it off.
You see, when you do this kind of work, when it comes to money, certain amount of monies have to be spent only by resolutions going to the executive committee, and everything we spend that doesn’t go through a resolution, you need to have receipts and records.
The unfortunate situation in which we found ourselves was that Mr McFoy and Mr Gonzalez claimed that they were employees here so they paid themselves bonuses, they paid themselves vacation grants and they paid themselves for vacations they didn’t take. But we have no record of how they came up with that, because no one elected to an office here is an employee. I’m not an employee here.
So when they brought us to the Labour Department, asthey did, making those claims, there and then we asked Labour Department to ask them for the evidence. They never came back for another meeting, because they don’t have the evidence.
That level of impropriety did occur. In this country, we’ve developed a culture where people don’t get held accountable, and we don’t get to lock them up. If it happens at the highest level of Government, what do you expect to happen below.”
In the end, the President reiterated that she answers to the union members she represents in particular, and is not afraid of any scrutiny.