The Government of Belize will pay the wages of the workers of Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) for the remaining life of the current sanitation contact with the Belize City Council.
The announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon by Prime Minister Dean Barrow during a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel.
Prime Minister Barrow, in making the announcement, said that the decision to pay the wages for the BML workers is not a political gesture but a response to the situation facing them. Here is how he explained it.
“An understanding was reached between Government and BML, and between the Belize City council and B.M.L. Yesterday evening after I became aware of the details of the situation that saw the BML engage in their protest action, and after I had been acquainted back and forth between the Belize City council and BML, I got in touch with Mr. Ellis who’s the owner/manager of BML and arranged for my representative, in the person of Economics Affairs Ambassador Mark Espat, to sit with Mr. Ellis, to try and agree on the contours of the intervention that I have told Mr. Ellis Government was prepared to make. Mr. Ellis and Ambassador Espat did meet, and that meeting resulted later on in the issuing of a letter on the part of the Government of Belize to Mr. Lawrence Ellis and Belize Maintenance Limited. What that letter does and I can read it in full for you if that appears to be necessary. But in effect what the letter does is to commit the Government of Belize to pay the weekly salary of the BML workers. Government will do this right through to the end of the contract between BML and the Belize City council. So we will assume the obligations of the Belize City council.
Government has done this, of course, because there’s no way we could not act in the face of a situation that saw workers either been having laid off, or about to be laid off. For us this is not political, this is a matter of philosophical and deeply held conviction on the part of this Government. I’m not going to comment in any judgmental way on the circumstances that produced a situation in which workers were either laid off, or were in danger of being laid off. But this government knew, I certainly knew, that we would have to find the money to ensure that these workers could continue being paid, to ensure Mr Ellis and BML would not be obliged to lay off people.”
The Prime Minister also announced that the Belize City Council has committed to taking on as many of the BML workers as is needed when the sanitation contract expires in January, 2015. The deal was negotiated in a meeting with BML owner Lawrence Ellis on Government’s behalf by Economic Affairs Ambassador Mark Espat earlier this week, even as the workers were protesting. The letter formalizing the agreement says that the result does not affect obligations on either side in the contract. Mayor Darrell Bradley later met personally with Mr Ellis and attorney Michel Chebat, and agreed to a payment schedule as well as efforts to settle a separate judgment debt. As for the charges of littering and taking part in an illegal public meeting, that required personal and direct intervention from the Prime Minister with Senior Superintendent Edward Broaster, leading directly to the dropping of charges against 18 of the 40 workers on Wednesday morning. He expects that when the rest return to court in October, the charges would be withdrawn against them. Mayor Bradley for his part responded to questions of who won or lost more on the deal.
“Well, I would think that they are a winner, and a big winner, when you look at the size of that contract, 78 thousand dollars per week that we pay for, representing a significant amount of our expenditure. That, together with the other contract, is 40% of our outlays. I think that the biggest loser in this is the citizens of Belize City, who have to complain about poor drains, poor sanitation services in terms of cleaning the city, and a City Council that is strapped for cash because every single week we have to raise 78 thousand dollars to pay them. I think that the Prime Minister was right to point out to me that people who are losers in all of this would have been the workers. And I’m glad that he impressed upon me the importance of focussing on them, who are the vulnerable element. So I think the biggest persons who would have lost would have been the residents, because we’ve had to shell out so much money for something which I think is not cost-effective and of value, and the workers, who the Prime Minister now by stepping in has ensured that there is protection for.”
The Council has hewn toward ending the contract as expected, but the Mayor stated that it was necessary to re-orient the focus toward protecting the workers and preparing the orderly transition out of the contract. We will have more on this on Thursday.