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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Belize

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Belize, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88963b.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 312,000
Capital: Belmopan

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Although fundamental trade union rights are recognised by law, the legislation allows the government to submit a dispute to arbitration to prevent or stop a strike. Trade union activists were dismissed in a number of companies. Measures to limit the exercise of collective bargaining rights persisted.

Unions remain totally absent from the export processing zones. Forced or compulsory labour, although prohibited by law, still exists and mainly affects East Indians. Migrants, victims of people trafficking for labour exploitation, are being forced to work in local factories under exploitative conditions.

Background

The Belizean economy is small and highly dependent on agricultural products such as sugarcane, citrus fruits, bananas and seafood. Tourism has become another key source of hard currency earnings over recent years. Poverty is rising and now affects some 40% of the population. Unemployment is close to 12%. The minimum wage does not provide workers with a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.

The levels of violence and drug trafficking continue to be the biggest challenges facing the authorities. The neighbouring countries also suffer from the high level of drug trafficking, which is the source of most of the money laundered. Prime Minister Dean Barrow is trying, with unclear results, to combat organised crime and drug trafficking, to restore confidence in public servants and institutions, and to improve living standards in the country.

Trade union rights in law

While the law guarantees basic trade union rights, there are a number of shortcomings. Workers are free to form and join trade unions and to elect their representatives. As regards anti-union discrimination, in addition to protection against acts of discrimination and interference by employers, as of 2011 the law also established the right to reinstatement in the event of dismissal for union activities, as well as fair compensation.

Although the right to collective bargaining is recognised, the law stipulates that a union can only be certified as a bargaining agent if it receives 51% of the workers' votes. In the case of essential services, the law empowers the authorities to prohibit or terminate a strike or to refer a dispute to compulsory arbitration. The list of essential services exceeds the ILO definition.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Legislation not applied: Forced or compulsory labour, although prohibited by law, still exists, and mainly affects East Indians. Chinese migrants, victims of people trafficking for labour exploitation, are being forced to work in local factories under exploitative conditions.

No unions in export processing zones: The labour legislation applies to the country's 63 export processing zones (EPZ) but, in practice, employers constantly prohibit the formation of unions and refuse to recognise them. As a result, there are no unions in the EPZs.

Rights-free zones: Banana production has long been an economic area characterised not only by inhumane and appalling working conditions but also the systematic violation of workers' fundamental rights, such as the right to organise, to strike and to collective bargaining. The same applies to the export processing zones (EPZ), where any attempt to organise is crushed by dismissing the workers trying to do so.

Women deprived of labour rights: Poor application of the labour laws results in Belizean women facing inequalities and discrimination in the world of work. The unemployment rate among women is an estimated 18.6%, while the rate for men is 8.4%. Women's pay is only around 52% of that received by men, and they tend to be more concentrated in low paid and low skilled jobs.

Violations

Social security employees hold a stoppage:

On 14 February 2011, over 60% of Belize's Social Security Board employees, members of the Christian Workers' Union, held a stoppage, declaring that they were ill. The stoppage was held in response to the obstacles being raised by the Belizean Social Security Board (SSB) to block the conclusion of a new collective agreement. According to Antonio González, president of the Christian Workers' Union, the strike was motivated by the employees' frustration and the managements' attitude. In October 2010, the union had presented various revised proposals for the negotiations on the new collective agreement but received no reply from the administration. The only response received from the management was a document, dated 18 January 2011, stating that the bargaining process was being halted.

The union sent the Labour Minister 21 days' notice of its intention to strike. According to Merlene Bailey Martínez, chief executive officer of the SSB, the strike held on 14 February slowed operations but the management managed to cover the critical areas needed to attend to clients. She said that the reasonable aspects of the union's proposals would be examined, maintaining that the management has to ensure that a balance is struck between the internal and external stakeholders, to reach a solution that is satisfactory to both.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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