Yesterday as we reported, the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) signed collective bargaining agreements with the Central Bank of Belize and Port Authority. A witness to the signing and the man whose department must ensure that the agreements conform to standards and are properly followed and enforced is Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams. After congratulating the three entities on their signing, Williams spoke briefly about the role of the Labour Department and a coming effort to help stevedores obtain their objective of a CBA after many years:
Ivan Williams, Labor Commissioner: We know that Belize is a member of the ILO and we’ve signed on to a number of ILO conventions including convention 87, which talks about collective bargaining, and 98 which talks about the right to a Collective bargaining and many other conventions, and so we are bounded by those conventions to ensure that we create the atmosphere and create the environment where freedom of association and the right to belong to a trade union is respected. Meaning that it is dependent on the employee , and so in addition to that we’re also, as a member of the ILO, as a matter of fact as we speak, we are no seeking to complete the process of the ratification of the ILO Convention, the Maritime Labor convention 2006 which will incorporate many of those maritime provisions and statues and agreements governing stevedoring and people working at sea.
And speaking of the stevedores, the management of Port of Belize Limited and the union have been at drawn out negotiations for several years during which there have also been strikes by the stevedores. The president of the Christian Workers Union, Audrey Matura Shepherd is very candid about where they stand:
Audrey, Matura, Sheperd, President of the Christian Workers Union: Belize, in March of 2015, and we started negotiations sometime in about August. It spiraled out of control not all of management but some things played perfectly in the hands of management. Part of it because of some of our own workers and the things that they do, the wild strikes and protests they want to have. Some of them that we make agreements with management and they don’t want to even though it’s sensible things like it’s a unit where they just feel like they should do everything and anything when they want and sometimes you can’t sit down, and that works in favor of management because right now basically management does basically what they want with them and there’s no CBA to control and regulate and the last time, even the government sided with the government and made them an essential service which is critical because if you notice, every other essential service, the reason you can afford to be an essential service is because you have a CBA and you have all these other benefits. Stevedores are not even full time workers but now they’re made an essential service. They will never have the benefits that all these other essential services have. When you look at different departments that are from government. When you look at things like Port, like the airport, when you look at BEL, BTL, WASA, the utilities, they have CBA’s and they have very good benefits, even Social Security Board. Stevedores will never have that, they are not even respected as employees, but they many times, not all of them, because it’s not fair that all of them, there’s that vocal handful that are just mischief makers and they just play into the hands of government. That will always be a challenging unit, we always knew that. It was a challenging one before we took over, our tenure could end and it would still be challenging but we can’t give up. It is at a standstill at this moment, in the meantime we have other units that we’re bargaining for. We have challenging ones, social security board has been very challenging and one of the reasons is that the same board members that should be going for approval, they have two board members on the actual bargaining unit but when we had Mr Neal appointed as a member of the board of the SSB through NTUCB, they said no they would not accept his application.
Williams also noted the Department’s efforts to enforce the law and help the trade unions obtain satisfactory agreements.