Santander, a Guatemalan owned sugarcane company, boasts that it employs an estimated 600 Belizeans, making up 80% of its work force. In addition to that, Santander has recently been advertising its apprenticeship program encouraging Belizeans to apply and learn firsthand from the foreign experts so that they can take on the duties of the company when the foreign experts leave. Plus News visited their facilities on March 23rd and it all seemed to be fine and dandy, so it was to our great surprise when we were called back three weeks later and found an employee protest in progress. But Santander’s Public Relations Officer told us it was all a big misunderstanding and ascertained that they are still a young company and working with the Department of Labour to implement better working conditions for their workers, and as we told you, 80% are Belizeans. But how closely is the Department of Labour working with the Santander Group of companies? And are they taking keen note of the employees concerns? Last week we asked Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams just that.
Ivan Williams – Labour Commissioner
“At this moment, the Labour Department stands ready to receive complaints coming from any work place, including Santander. I know we have visited recently and several recommendations have been made. We are to make another visit shortly, early next week, to assess where we are with respect to recommendations. We did receive several issues or several concerns raised by employees of Santander and we have to work through each one of them because it’s not a matter of you raising an issue and then we jump and say it’s right or wrong. There are more than one side to the story and we first have to look into that before we come to a conclusion. We have done that and now we have made some recommendations and I think there should be much improvement in terms of the wage structure for example. There was an issue in terms of determination of wage structure which we have found in the pass. Other areas they were complaining about such as the food and what not. We are scheduled to visit early next week and then at that stage we will continue to measure progress and continue to have an ear for concerns or complaints coming from workers.”
Santander has been in Belize for 7 years and will start to mill their sugar in the first few months of 2016.