The long-awaited meeting between Prime Minister Dean Barrow and executive members of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) took place this afternoon in Belize City at the Prime Minister’s office. It concerned the unions’ objections to the Petrocaribe Loans Act 2015 which is now pending amendment in the House of Representatives. It was widely thought that second vice president of the NTUCB and president of the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU), Audrey Matura-Shepherd, would not be allowed in the meeting because of her runins with the ruling party. But she was and she told us afterward that personality will not play a part in her dealings.
“Focusing on what this discussion is, we are looking at the amendments. We have heard out the prime minister. I must say, he graciously conceded to some of the points that we have made. One of the main points that he conceded to was that the retrospectively of it, as he said, was mainly to get over the legal challenge.That is a position that I have already said and the Union already recognized. There were a lot of other points that were discussed and what we will hear from our president is that we go back now to our general council, discuss everything that was discussed at this meeting and then go ahead with that. “
Giovanni Bracket – Plus TV Journalist
In terms of the Government not wanting you at these meetings, do you take it personal? How do you categorize it?”
Audrey Matura- Shepherd
“I don’t take it personal you know, I understand politics. I have been around the prime minister when I was in the U.D.P. and now I know the nature of his politics, sometimes he is very quick to say things but then when cooler heads prevail he sees that there’s no sense. I mean his people that follow him in terms of the people, especially on Wave Radio, they take lead and make attacks but I can’t take those things personal because at the end of the day that’s just a distraction. I came to the meeting, I think it was rather polite and cordial, I had my input. We met before as a general council. The general council discussed before some of the points and it was clear cut, everybody had the opportunity to chime in, not everybody did but clearly I listened and I chimed in where it was important for me to chime in. I can’t take it personal.”
The NTUCB now heads back to its membership but it does not have a lot of time, as the planned amendments are to be presented in the House on June 26. However, NTUCB president Marvin Mora says that while the Prime Minister is confident of the sanctity of the Act and its amendments, he has bent on the issue of allowing other amendments proposed by the Congress and others.
“One of the things that we point blank asked the prime minister was the last thing that we asked, that if he is confident that let’s say the unthinkable for him would happen where his government would lose power in this upcoming or imminent upcoming election and you have a change of leadership in the government, if he is confident enough that the, not only the Petrocaribe bill but the amendments that he is putting in are good enough so that it would not allow any other administration to abuse the Petrocaribe fund and he said that he is one hundred percent confident. Still he opened up the doors not only for the congress to inject something in that regard if it were possible but also to other suggestions in regards to the Petrocaribe Bill so these are the things that we have to go back to our membership on, have discussions with them, get their feedback and then formulate positions and decisions on a go forward basis. The conversation with the Prime Minister has started, it is not done. That is what the Trade Union Congress wanted to hear.”
According to Mora the unions will stay out of the back and forth over criminal penalties and other issues raised by the political parties; their primary concern is the benefit of the Act to workers.