Earlier this year the Government of Belize seized control of the International Business Company (IBC) and International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE) from their former owners, Belize International Services Limited (BISL). Litigation over that takeover will certainly be filed in the courts, but as Government and BISL wrangle, the fate of employees like receptionist Ms. Shari Muschamp hangs in the balance. But should it? After all, Prime Minister Dean Barrow is on record with the press as stating that current employees need not fear losing their posts. This is what he said on the matter at a press conference in June.
“I want to thank you. Your question reminded me that I had forgotten to say what is of importance that all Belizeans at those registries need not to fear for their jobs. Every single Belizean working in the registries will be kept in place”.
But Mrs. Muschamp, mother of a seven year old and receptionist for the Registry for five years, went on maternity leave during the takeover and was told today upon her return that she basically does not have a job. She tells us more.
“I have two children. I am emotionally wrecked at this point. It’s hard to deal with my kids. I hate speaking about it, but it’s hard. They demoralize me as woman, as a mother and it’s even harder for a child to ask you for something to eat and you can’t provide it. They took away everything; I can’t afford to pay my bills, everything is gone”.
Ms. Muschamp alleges she has no disciplinary record beyond absences due to sickness. She has a thyroid condition which flared up during her pregnancy which Government Legal Counsel Mr. Gian Ghandi cites as evidence despite no appearance before a medical board. But without evidence of her being medically unfit, says attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who has taken up the case, the Government has no excuse not to let Ms. Muschamp return to work.
Reporter: “So why are you here this morning ma’am?
Reporter: “What happened when you tried to report to work?”
Ms. Shari Muschamp: “Well I went in this morning to work and the security guard told me that I have to be escorted out of the building, Mr. Ghandi doesn’t want me on the compound. Santiago Gonzalez, who is the former Deputy Registrar, he is stating that he cannot give a dismissal letter, he has nothing to do with it, it has to come from Mr. Ghandi. Mr. Ghandi made it clear to the security that he doesn’t want me in the building”.
Ms. Audrey Matura Shepherd- Attorney at Law
“Yes, my client was sick during her pregnancy, but sickness during pregnancy is no reason for you to dismiss anyone, but she wasn’t even dismissed. If they wanted to use that as a basis, they had to make her appear before a medical board. The other thing you need to understand is that when Mr. Ghandi wrote us back, he did bring out the warning letter; that warning letter was given four days after this young lady was given an increase in salary. One warning letter is no basis for you to say the person has not been a good employee. If she was not a good employee from 2008 onward, she would have been dealt with, they can’t prove that when the Government took over. Even if the Government felt that was basis, they still had to have the courtesy to a call in this person to a meeting and tell her where she stands. She came in when she heard the news, to find out what has happened and they told her that they will get in touch with her”.
In fact, says Shepherd, her client got the news when she learned that Social Security had no maternity benefit for her because her contributions through Government were no longer being paid. In limbo, the young mother has been forced to seek the kindness of relatives and wonders where she will get the money to feed, clothe and shelter her children. Though she does not want publicity, Ms. Muschamp is adamant that she wants justice.
Ms. Muschamp: “It is very a last resort. I am left with anywhere else to go, anything else to do. Being an underdog to them, it’s okay for them to just brush their feet on me, like I’m a mat. Its’ unfair. They sit up there with their big cheques and their big money and forget about the poor people. As far as I am concerned, I pay my taxes in Belize. When I go to the store, I have to pay my tax. I deserve to get justice”.
There is the option of formal legal action but that has not been fully explored.