The Christian Workers Union, as expected, is not in agreement that stevedores provide an essential service to the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) with their unloading and loading of cargo.The move to make them so, primarily to require 21 days’ notice of industrial action – which to be fair is required of management as well – is in their view, heartless and high handed and a case of the Goverment siding with the big people. CWU president Audrey Matura-Shepherd tells us more
Audrey Matura Shepard, CWU President: After consultation with our stevedores seeking direction, they feel that they have gotten the royal Christmas buccut from the government and it is unfortunate that the government has to give to our poorer workers. CWU negotiates for quite a few entities and I must say the stevedores fall in the group with the least benefits, the poorer category. I don’t mean to put them down but they just have the less economic power and at the same time they’re also the ones who, unfortunately a lot of them fall under the category of the less academically qualified. So it is unfortunate that they would picked on the seemingly weakest set to pass such a legislation and to do it without consolation, without advice, without even asking for a meeting, and to hear then that Mr. Tucks Vasquez from the port of Belize boasts that the Chamber of Commerce had already requested such a legislation but ironically he is the chairman of the Belize’s Chambers of Commerce so it is a typical case where you see the giant come pressing down on the poorer working class. That’s the reality, that’s their Christmas gift, that’s the purview of the Government and it’s a reflection of how they see these people.
Matura-Shepherd lamented that, in her belief, politics has played a role
Audrey Matura Shepard, CWU President: And I say unfortunate because politics always plays a critical role in many things in this country, and unfortunate because the stevedores who I would estimate 90% are hard supports of the United Democratic Party were adamant and convinced that their government would not do anything contrary to their interest without talking to them. It went so far that one of the guys on the negotiating team, Mr. Shawn Middleton took it upon himself to call the Prime Minister and dialogue with the Prime Minister personally one on one, that’s how close they are to this government. So that’s why I say they got the buccut. So let’s make the record go straight right here, why would a government undermine a people without finding out what’s behind the scene? What I want people to know is what the other side of the coin is? Because the other side reeks with injustice and unfairness, and unfortunately Christmas comes around and everyone wants to go their merry little way and does not concern what is the plight of other people, that is what the concern should be about. Not the big entities, because if the government was serious, especially the prime minster, according to those stevedores in 2004 when the port was privatized no other than Dean Barrow was amongst their ranks at the Port Gate demanding justice for them and that is why they were convinced that he knowing their plights in 2004, would not have turned a hand against them.
So what can they do, if anything at all? Matura-Shepherd says they will continue negotiating the collective bargaining agreement but does not expect it to happen overnight and sees it being an uphill battle. She is however, hopeful that by next year this time, a new CBA will be signed:
Audrey Matura Shepard, CWU President: Everybody who gets a good that is imported in this country never stop and think that those men work 24 to sometime 32 hours right through the day so that you get your luxuries, they don’t care. We have a country that doesn’t really care about people, poor people; it’s a lot of lip service. The stevedores can strike upon 21 days notice and we can give the notice the minute that has been gazette. Sad but true, as much as I try to tell those stevedores what to do or not, me singularly can say don’t do it, but never mess with a mad man. A hungry man, an angry man, and a poor man, at some point they will break. Loyalty to everything else will be put aside and natural instinct to survive will take over. Trust me they’re not happy, but I think some of them don’t even know to express the shock, cause that’s their Christmas Gift. We still have the ability to go to the table, we can’t force port to give us what they don’t want and we will have to apply every strategy to get something for the stevedores. I am hoping that people will take more interest in the issue and learnt their side.
Reporter: What would happen in such a case? Would they fire all the stevedores on strike? What would happen?
Audrey Matura Shepard, CWU President: It’s so ironic what could possibly happen because the only bargaining unit for the stevedores is the CWU and the only recognized entity that can stevedores to that port is CWU. There would definitely be a legal crisis but I think that there would be a blood bath, I honestly can’t see the stevedores stepping aside and saying well we’ll just someone else do our work and I would hope it wouldn’t reach that.
Matura-Shepherd says Government could legislate benefits for workers like the stevedores who do not work up to 1 hundred 80 days per year. Additionally, she says government should look into why since 2004 attempts to sign a CBA have been frustrated. She also questioned why the Government has not re-nationalized the port.