Belize’s Black Stevedores Protest

Belize’s Black Stevedores Protest

March 5, 2020


We hope that this message finds you well in the struggle for dignity and justice.

We are writing to alert you to breaking news in Belize where stevedores (dock workers) are going into their 72 hours of protest camping out against actions of the privately-run Port of Belize Ltd. with the support of their union, the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU). There are about 150 mostly Black stevedores (dockworkers) who daily risk their lives (some have fallen to their deaths) working to unload shipping containers, at the principal deep-water port in the Central American and Caribbean country of Belize. One community supporter at the port said, “These workers are the salt-of-the-earth. They risk their lives for us.” They cannot call this protest a strike, because of the 2015 law that the Government of Belize pushed deeming stevedores “essential service workers” requiring that they give 21 days notice of an industrial strike. The union's communications regarding a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the PBL have gone unanswered; they have not had a new CBA since 2004.

The workers recently learned- through the grapevine- that two multinational corporations, American Sugar Refineries and Santander, are restructuring sugar exports after months (if not years) of behind closed door meetings. They plan to move shipping of sugar to the Big Creek Port in the southern district of Toledo. Workers there are not yet unionised and the Port will use mechanisation of the process as justification for hiring fewer labourers. They are being pressured to end this action and return to work. The CWU now questions the legality of the Essential Services Act as stevedores are often denied work shifts during bank holidays, presumably so that the PBL can avoid having to pay time and a half or double their regular salaries.

The union president Evan “Mose” Hyde and the union representatives explain that the restructuring of the sugar imports will impact 150 workers, a third of whom are expecting to be fired under grounds of “redundancy” and almost half of whom are expecting to have their hours and income cut, tremendously. This is one of the few jobs in which Black workers are able to make what approximates a living wage, with a union, in the southside of Belize City. Many of them come from generations of dock workers who work expertly under dangerous conditions. Currently while the men are on strike- and always- women in the community are carrying out the labour of taking care of children and the home.

This is racist. This is anti-union. This is anti-labour. It is an assault on Black workers who are part of the heart of the Belize economy, in a country where the majority is living in poverty and is made up of Black (African Kriol, Garinagu and African and African Diasporan immigrants), Indigenous (Maya Mopan, Yucatec, Q’eqchi and Garinagu) and SE Asian Diasporan (East Indians).

CWU leadership:
Evan “Mose” Hyde (501) 672-4770
Marisol Amaya, KREM, (501) 671-6037; or
YaYa Marin Coleman, KREM, (501) 671-8050;

Words from the CWU at the start of the protest:
“In the wake of this neoliberal romance there will be devastating economic losses to one hundred and fifty stevedores, approximately almost a third of which will become unemployed, and those that remain will have their annual earnings reduce by 40%. The writing is clearly on the wall that our members are on a sinking ship with sugar. A huge reason for this devastating blow is the failure of PBL’s receivership either as a result of disinterest or because of conspiratorial design fail to compete, fail to invest and fail to care. While our members financial stability is about to be sacrificed in the name corporate profit margins, PBL has not felt it important to communicate a single word to our members , members who have risked and lost their lives working in unsafe conditions, and unsafe barges while making maximum profits for these companies. We know that ASR has had the decency to engage its members who will be affected by this move in the North, multiple gratuity options are being presented to them but here in Belize City the receivership has completely ignored our members.

Today we are demanding a signed agreement for compensation for our members for the years that they have worked sugar, once they have been made redundant. We will not wait until the last sugar boat is loaded, we do not trust the present management of PBL. We have had to go to the highest offices of the land seeking an intervention with PBL’s failure, but while we have gotten a sympathetic ear, we have been told there is nothing that can be done to force PBL to act in our interest. The staff members at PBL that we represent are also taking the time to protest the blatant disrespect and insolence of the management in completely ignoring their proposals for a new CBA that was sent to them last year. The staff members have every right to be frustrated by the fact that they have not had a new CBA since 2004. This stale agreement has created an environment where our members have seen their rights eroded and a plethora of irregularities and inconsistencies in the workplace. Our members’ backs are against the wall, there is no choice but to stand up and defend and secure our survival and our economic dignity."

We need international news coverage
Contacts with unions and other social movement organisations
The Christian Workers Union needs legal contacts in the Caribbean region (Common Law)

Living wage: This is one of the sectors in which workers are able to make something resembling a living wage.

Solidarity: Staff at the PBL have occasionally stood outside with the stevedores in a show of support. Yesterday truck drivers from northern Belize joined the stevedores. The Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) has joined some meetings.

Workers’ rights: The stevedores are unionised and incredibly skilled workers being denied any participation in the decision making processes that impact their work and livelihood. International laws and conventions protect their right to work. Their wages are critical to Black working class people in try Belize City.

Racial justice: In a country plagued with anti-Black racism, the work of stevedores has been dominated by Black people of African descent. International laws protect Black people from discrimination by private and public institutions and require that the state protect Black people from racial discrimination. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize has acknowledged the UN Decade of People of African Descent.

Gender justice: Women are taking on immense reproductive and feminised labour, now while the stevedores are camping out at the Port, and, always.

Immigrant rights: Neoliberal policies impose the privatisation of public resources, impoverish and militarise this Central American and Caribbean country and provide one of the main reasons why Belizeans, particularly Black Belizeans, migrate.

Environmental rights: These corporations are shifting to rely on trucking to a southern district and will likely increase their use of fossil fuels and potentially create conditions of congestion on road-ways that pass through mountainous zones, creating greater risk for truck drivers.

Krem Livestream and Video Links (YMC)
Krem News’ director Marisol Amaya and Krem Sunday Review host YaYa Marin Coleman have been covering the protest, interviewing stevedores and union leaders.
Christian Workers Union Press Conference March 5, 2020
March 2, 2020 Interview with union leadership
March 2 Text Synopsis & Photos
March 2, Video Video clip from Wednesday March 4, 2020 Stevedore Sharing about the containers coming in to be loaded on the ship.
March 5, 2010 Stevedores Respond about the meeting with CWU. PBL and Labour Minister Pictures and text from stevedores having breakfast after their 2nd morning of waking up outside the Port of Belize Ltd.

Newspaper Articles and Photos (YMC)
Stevedores stood, sat, walked in front of the Belize Port Authority Limited Monday March 3, 2020 at around 8:30 in the morning Stevedores face “dread times”
February 8, 2020 news article about stevedores concerned about job insecurity BSI/ASR threatens stevedores' earnings
February 2020 Santander offers Cayo Farmers sweet deal
As their workers Santander offers Cayo farmers sweet deal
News story from February 2020 about Santander Harvest and their use of machinery to produce more profits, replace workers
October 6, 2018 Amandala story on PBL & CWU about stevedores Stevedores threaten waterfront strike!
Stevedores stories, their work lives, they work in gangs of (how many men), and they work in shifts (different hours of work, staggered throughout the time it takes to load a boat), Black men, generations of families, Faber Family 5 generations of men in the longshore business
News article in December 2015 after 3 days of strike by stevedores around Christmas time GOB passes a law to make stevedores essential services Parties react to law making stevedores an essential service
News article explaining Belize Sugar The Santander Group exports first sugar shipment Industry (BSI/ASR position on why they are considering trucking raw sugar from the North of Belize where the sugar cane is processed to the Port of Big Creek in the Toledo District BSI shipment of sugar from Big Creek Port will hit stevedores hard, if implemented September 25, 2019
Big Creek is a deep water port (,_Belize)
The Port has been in receivership for many years- it is privatised and under “temporary” management
Belize City describe the North and Southside classifications this link gives a description of north and south side geographic location
Santander first export in 2016