There was no industrial action taken today by the Belize Energy Workers Union. When we left you last night, we told you that BEL had issued a press release saying that they had reached an agreement with the Belize Energy Workers Union after a mediation meeting by the Prime Minister with parties involved in the salary increase and benefits dispute. Earlier that day, the BEWU had said they had come to the end of diplomatic negotiations still empty handed and they would be reverting to industrial action today, Wednesday September 30, if no suitable settlement was reached, but after the meeting with the Prime Minister, BEL issued the press release saying that BEL and the Belize Energy Workers Union had reached points of agreement on negotiations of salaries and benefits, subject to ratification by both parties later that evening in Belmopan at the Ministry of Labour. That meeting in Belmopan started a little after 7:30 pm. The Minister met first with the Union leaders and then met with the BEL representative present. At the 12 a.m. mark, the union executives could still be seen waiting in the lounge for discussions to conclude between BEL and the Ministry. The extensive meeting continued for about three more hours and ended at around 3 o’clock this morning where our Plus TV journalist was waiting for the results. He spoke to the President of BEWU after the long 8 hour wait.
Marvin Mora, President BEWU: Well the resolution of tonight’s meeting is an agreement between the union and the Minister of labor in consultation with the prime minister. Basically it is the agreement that the minister had proposed, is the proposal that the minister had made. In essence, it is something that the Union had agreed to in principle, so we are OK with it from the beginning.
Reporter: Sir what was the hold up today? We are here at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Marvin Mora, President BEWU: well it is a situation with management more than anything else. As far as the Prime minister who represents the government and the owner of the company is concerned, what the union is asking is fair, and it is something that they’re willing to accept, and the agreement has been signed.
Reporter: Minister, it has been a really long night tonight. Tell us. What was the ear in the negotiations tonight? Is this one for the books?
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Labor: Well thanks. As I was saying in the morning it is 3 o’clock and as you can see my whole staff is here. what happened is, today or yesterday really, the prime minister met with the union representatives in an attempt to try to move this process forward. Out of that, there were 4 agreed points. And so, this or yesterday evening I should saw, we brought both BEL and the union together to try to finalize those points into a final agreement. As some technical difficulties in doing that in terms of packaging it into an agreement so what we wound up doing is agreeing with the union the points that the prime minister had agreed with them to their satisfaction which will then lead to the final inclusion in the agreement with BEL. As you can see, the Union is fairly satisfied with that and we think we are now in a place to move forward.
BEWU did not get the 8 percent salary increase they originally wanted but they did get a 7% across the board salary increase that will be spread out over the course of four years. This salary increase is not tied to the current performance appraisal system and is in addition to those increases related to the performance appraisal system. Furthermore the increase is retroactive to January 1st, 2015. One of the bones of contentions between the Unions and management were two conditions which were set by the management, which the Unions found unpalatable. Those included issues relating to the vesting period and sick leave. Minister of Labor Hon. Godwin Hulse said those are no longer a part of the discussion.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Labor: No not really. The main one was the vesting, changing in the vesting period and that has been taken off the table. This whole issue of sick of sick leave does require that you do bring in a Doctor paper. But in the practice companies has always given a few days of that annual sick leave entitlement without the doctor paper because it becomes a little unweldly practice whereby maybe you have to go the next day to get the paper and then doctor doesn’t really know what you was sick the first day. So the management position is that the Unions will not use that as a weapon. The union’s position is that if all is hunky-dory and we’ going good, nobody is going to do that so it’s working out to be kind of a mute point.
The three other points that were agreed upon were that the retroactive increase in salary will only be applicable to base salary; that the company shall match the contribution of all employees paying 10% of their salary into the BEL Pension Fund, upon signing of the MOA; and that the company agrees to a 1% annual lift in pension matching contribution up from 6% to 10 % commencing 2015 for all employees who opt to increase their pension contribution. We followed the story this morning where the agreement was to officially be signed between the BEL workers and the management setting into effect a new CBA that will last for the next four years. The scheduled time for the signing was at 3 o clock this afternoon at the Labour Department, however the representatives of the Belize Energy Workers Union (BEWU) and senior management at Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) did not emerge until after 4:30. Fortunately for the workers and the consumers, crisis has been averted and the beginnings of a Collective Bargaining Agreement are agreed. But according to Mora, the work is not yet completely done; a few issues still remain to be worked out. But the result did not come without what Mora describes as a “tense atmosphere”. He tells us why and discusses a “sticking point” concerning retroactive payments to workers.
Marvin Mora, President BEWU: For us it was tense because we are dealing with the closing off of a chapter in terms of collective-bargaining and moving on to the final stages of closing that. So for us it was tense because this is very important to us and it’s a milestone for our people, it’s an accomplishment for the Union Executive as well.
Reporter: Apart from the signing upstairs in that room, was there any other negotiations in that room because you did take a while up there.
Marvin Mora, President BEWU: No, the only sticking point was in terms of the retractive payment which also is part of the agreement but it’s only from January to whenever the company decides to implement the 1.75 for 2015. The only stinking out issue out of that is the fact that we didn’t cement a specific date when the company should pay it, but we don’t want to put the company against the wall in that regard because that’s a cash flow issues and the company would better determine.
Mora credits Prime Minister Dean Barrow for his understanding of the situation and his assistance with resolving the situation. But he points out that even with a meeting planned, the membership had taken the vote to go ahead with the strike if an agreement had not been reached.
Marvin Mora, President BEWU: as a matter of fact, what I can tell you is that the union had envisioned The Prime Minister intervening for a very good while. It Just happened that we taught that we still were not at the end of the process. it was the membership that took the mantle to make that decision on their own and forwarded to the executive so that we were forced to go to the media to warn the media, or the public that there is an impending strike that could possibly materialize. we are a responsible Trade Union, and the last thing that we want to do is to hide anything like a strike which would probably cause destruction of services and things that would affect our customer service. at the end of the day that’s a no brainer for us. That’s the reason why we called the media, for us to be able to alert the media because we did not know what the Prime minister’s position would be today.
Approximately 150 BEL employees of the 200-plus strong workforce are members of the BEWU. The agreement, when completed, will last for four years. So Government saves the day, again, averting a possible industrial crisis. Now, the Government owns the company by virtue of being the majority shareholder, so putting it into context, the Government saved the union and the nation from potential industrial crisis from a company that is owned by the Government. The question was asked of Minister Hulse if this was a calculated move, a well thought out chess move from the Government, that would hopefully work to see this administration elected into a third consecutive term at the next general elections that is set to take place in less than 35 days. Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minster of Labour and Local Government said, absolutely not.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Labor: I don’t know if you would call it a big win. We have had several issues, and a responsible government, any responsible government deals with them. Certainly I as minister of labor try to arrest these issues, whether this is issues at Santander, issues at KHMH, I join in with my colleagues, issues at BTL, issues at FCIB. This is what the ministry does and so when we do it and we have a successful conclusion, we’re happy for that. I mean peace reigns, and at the end of the day people should be able to get their issues and concerns properly addressed and their government should help to facilitate that. The company is an independent company and has a Board of Directors and it’s a legal entity from the government point of view per say. Just that the government is the main shareholder now but it runs on its own, regardless of who owns it. But remember that out intervention is part of the law that gives us the right and the responsibility to mediate in areas where there are disputes and this is what we’ve invoked.
Reporter: So in no way is this a convoluted move on part of the government to get an alleyoop?
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister Of Labor: Absolutely not.