The Christian Workers Union says it is ready to begin negotiations on the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Port of Belize Limited on the working conditions for stevedores. It hosted a press briefing at its office today where stevedores which form part of the negotiating team spoke side by side with Union president Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who has advocated that they be a fundamental part of the negotiation process. In that vein, Matura-Shepherd explains why the Union had to move as it did in the past few months, knowing that it faced a stacked deck going into negotiations.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, President Christian Workers Union: I will say that as soon as we took over they did want us to negotiate, however as we rightfully told them at out introductory meeting is that it would be unfair for an executive to have no ideas to how the court works, absolutely no knowledge of the system, haven’t even been able to canvass the men to find out what really affects them to just go to a bargaining table and continue business as usual leaving off where they were from 2012. It’s a good thing we didn’t do that because where they were in 2012 after we got disclosure of all the documents it was not a good place to be. It would be very unjust and irresponsible of the union to have just picked up exactly where they were and just continue because there wouldn’t have been no progress. So what we did is we formulated the CBA, what we found out for the 11years the executive of the Union nor the management ever created a CB and propose it to each other. This is, despite port negotiating team having an attorney, an accountant, their CEO, their deputy, and 2 union people. 1 who was previously executive of this Union and one who was previously executive of the PAC Union. So you have on their negotiating team they are paying professionals, and we also have Major Jones on that team who is paid as a consultant and you all know he has worked with the port. So we’ve met a team of people with specific expertise above what our Union members had and above what our stevedores had, and it would have been fair for us to go into that ambush, and we’ve kept silent about it but now that we hope that we will reach where we want to be. It was the decision of the stevedores to lay the cards on the table and let people know that no we do not stall, what we did was prepare ourselves to be leveling the playing field and be of equal match to 7 negotiators they had that have been the ones negotiating from the previous administration. So they have that institutional knowledge above everyone else that we had at that table.
The Union’s negotiators, Aldrid Fuller, Guy Neal and Shawn Middleton were popularly elected, with CWU executive Dion Pitter assisting and an advisory council which meets to look at proposals brought by the team. Other advisors include former Ombudsman Cynthia Pitts and activist Yaya Marin Coleman. Matura-Shepherd credits Port CEO Arturo Vasquez for hearing out the group and compromising on how to move forward as she outlines here.
Audrey Matura Shepherd, President CWU: All the documents that was signed that they wanted us to just breeze through, we will acknowledge that they were there. Well start a fresh with a framework. We did our homework, I am glad that the advisory council, the men, the actual stevedores were around this very table formulating that framework. We sent it to port of Belize, yesterday we finally got their counter proposal, they put in some key issues. And now we are setting a date for next week when we will meet and agree on the finer points, and after that we literally go into negotiating the CBA. I think we’ve come a long way. I know there were some stevedores who were upset because they think that we were too patient but I believe that we worked the process. The first step is not to go and bruk up everything, the first step is to dialogue. You don’t reach the point of having to strike which is the extreme, until all prospects have broken down. Yes the stevedores did a go slow the other day and that was important, because we could not get them to even acknowledge that we needed to meet and so we’ve met, but we are hoping in good faith, that the stevedores will not have to every minute do an action to get a reaction. We are hoping that there is genuine negotiation around the table and that negotiations will not break down and that court will understand that value of the stevedores.
Meetings will take place next week.