2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belize
|Publisher||International Trade Union Confederation|
|Publication Date||20 November 2008|
|Cite as||International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belize, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caa4c.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
In Belize the right to organise is not widely exercised. In the banana plantations and export processing zones, anti-union practices are used by employers. Dismissal is a common strategy for weakening the unions. Collective bargaining is not allowed by some employers, who ignore the unions and unilaterally impose wages and working conditions.
Trade union rights in law
By law, workers are free to establish and join trade unions, and members are free to elect officers from their membership. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, but does not provide for reinstatement in the case of dismissal for union activities. The fines imposed on companies for anti-union discrimination are extremely low.
Restrictions on the right to strike: Unions do have the right to strike, but this is limited for public sector workers in areas designated as "essential services". The Essential Services Act empowers the authorities to refer a dispute to compulsory arbitration to prohibit or terminate a strike. Such services are broadly defined, extending to postal, monetary, financial and transport services (civil aviation), and even services in which petroleum products are sold.
Restrictions on collective bargaining: The law provides for collective bargaining but, under the Trade Unions' and Employers' Organisations Act, a trade union can only be certified as a bargaining agent if it receives 51 per cent of the vote.
The Labour Code applies in the country's export processing zones (EPZs).
Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007
Background: Belize faced some serious problems of corruption within the government in 2007. The year was also significant as it preceded the elections due in 2008. More than 200 cases of abuse of authority by the government-controlled armed forces were reported. In May there were a number of protests in the capital against the government's economic policies, leading to clashes and the arrest of many of the demonstrators.
Employer strategies prevent growth of unions: It is reckoned that less than ten percent of the country's workforce are union members and there is no union organising in the EPZs. In the EPZs and the banana plantation non-recognition of trade unions is a common practice. Another anti-union strategy is to dismiss union activists and although the law bans such practices and official complaints have been made, often the workers are not reinstated since that is not a legal requirement.
Legal complexities and lack of legal protection for unionised workers: Some dubious practices have been noted in court cases concerning anti-union behaviour. The courts tend to favour the employers and to grant them damages efficiently, whilst getting such compensation is a slow and difficult business for trade union organisations. In addition, the procedures required for proving to the Ministry of Labour that people have been dismissed for their union activities are slow and cumbersome. Where a company has finally been shown to be using anti-union practices, the fines it faces are very low, so such practices have survived in a number of workplaces.
Collective bargaining rights violated: Though guaranteed in law, collective bargaining rights are frequently violated by employers, who arbitrarily fix wages and working conditions. Also, employers have a tendency not to recognise unions as the workers' representatives in collective bargaining processes and sometimes refuse to sit down with them for negotiations.
Government intervenes and stops strikes: The government frequently intervenes to stop strikes and has legal backing for doing so. Moreover, the right to strike is used in very limited cases, partly since it is banned in the so-called "essential" public services, of which there is too broad a definition.
Union leaders sacked at Belize Telecommunications Limited: In January, three official representatives of the Belize Communication Workers Union, the union at the company Belize Telecommunications Limited, were dismissed. The union immediately protested and organised strikes to secure their reinstatement, and in the same month it lodged a petition with the Supreme Court appealing against the dismissals. On 27 February Christine Perriott, the General Secretary of the same union, was also dismissed, on the pretext that her relationship with the company had deteriorated. The dismissal came just as the union was organising a strike to reinstate the three leaders sacked the previous month, so the protests were stepped up and a second court case was started.
On 5 March, the Minister of Labour ordered an enquiry into the dismissals, since they appeared to be unfair. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that Ms Perriott's dismissal was on account of her union activities and ordered that she be reinstated. However the company put her on "special paid leave" instead, refusing her access to the premises. On 13 June the Court reaffirmed that Ms Perriott should be reinstated in her post with Belize Telecommunications Limited, with the maintenance of all her rights, and imposed a fine on the company for contempt of court.
During the enquiries that lasted several months, there were legal complications and delays and the case was addressed not as anti-union behaviour but as a complaint by workers, thus blurring the origin of the conflict. Despite the pressure exerted by various unions such as the Belize National Teachers' Union and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, the cases regarding the dismissals of the other union leaders in January had still not been resolved by the end of the year.