The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) has intervened into the dispute between Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), which were on the verge of signing a commercial agreement last week, until the inclusion of a clause advocating establishment of a separate committee to resolve disputes apart from the Sugar Control Board managed by the Government of Belize.
While BSI has insisted that it did not mean to put the clause in, the NTUCB has seized on BSI’s action as characteristic of an organization unwilling to treat the farmers fairly.
On Monday spokesperson for the NTUCB, attorney and President of the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU), Audrey Matura-Shepherd, conveyed the Congress’ willingness to work with the farmers.
“One: We’re saying to the cane farmers, We stand in solidarity with you. Do not go ahead and sign that agreement. You have a window of opportunity to undo it.
Two: We are prepered to provide any expertise and assistance you need, technical assistance.
Three: We’re even prepared to seek legal opinions for you, so that you know that it’s not only us speaking, but we can get backing for you, what you need to do.
[Four]: We’re prepared to even move the Courts with you, if you want that to be done, and even bring people out if you want that done.
We support you a hundred per-cent. You’re no longer on your own. we want to parner with you. We hope that the Government feels the same way, and feels a sense of hope, that maybe we can regain back the strength that the association should have had when it went to the negotiating table.
[It] cannot be true bargaining, if you don’t have a level playing field.”
According to Matura-Shepherd, the NTUCB was as surprised as anyone by the turn of events which saw the details of an agreement worked out and the majority of caneros present at last Sunday’s general meeting in Corozal backing it, which support has now been withdrawn. She said what BSCFA executives were unwilling to say last week when questioned: politics may have played a role.
“Like overnight things change. We had a meeting with key people and we said we would intervene, because they were telling us , ‘Look, we are having a hard time now. BSI/ASR is not nudging.’
But before we could make the next move, we were just shocked that there was this meeting with Government, and everything just went so fast fast, and we’re like, ‘What is happening?’
Then some of the Directors were saying to us, well there are certain directors that met behind our back before, met with the Deputy Prime Minister. It’s like there was a process that just got in motion. By the time it hit us, and we had our next meeting, it’s like wow an agreement is being reached.
Let me tell you, there’s politics involved, and not neccessarity party politics. One thing I’ve learned, having gotten involved, all the political parties are playing their own roles, personalities are again interfering within the association. There’s some strong issues. I have gotten the feedback from farners, because some came out that day, that they have issues with the way certain leaders do things, and some personalities that push certain agendas, was amazing. It was totally amazing. how some people took set of interests and put it above a national interest and the livelihood of an entire nation.”
Ms Matura-Shepherd reminded us that the workers at BSI itself are affected as well, and have not had the benefit of proper representation under the Belize Energy Workers’ Union (BEWU).
“Belize Energy Workers Union, which is the union that represented employees of BSI, has been having a very difficult time with management. Management treats then with a lot of disrespect, don’t want to negotiate, has not given them certain payments that they should get. They always put them with their backs against the wall, and when they are desparate then they will come and address an issue, which is the worst time.
What we wanted to show is that’s the modus operendae of ASR. We wanted also for the workers of BSI to know, we stand in solidarity with them. We are seeing what this company is doing, not only to the cane farmers, but also to the employees, the very employees of BSI. So, we’re saying no more, no more disrespect.
Our workers, for example, when they revamped the entire system at BSI/ASR, the workers who are part-owners of the company, have never gottten their dividends. There’s some buurning issues there. So the NTUCB is stepping in to say, look we’re not only with the cane farmers, we’re with the BSI employees too.”