Today the leaders of the Joint Negotiating Team which includes the Public Service Union, the Belize National Teachers Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers met with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The focus of the meeting was Government’s request for a deferral of the three percent salary adjustment to two thousand seventeen. When government initially made the request, the PSU and the APSSM had agreed for the deferral leaving BNTU as the only bargaining union which refused the deferral proposal. At the meeting today, PM Barrow made two proposals hoping that all three unions would accept and agree to the deferral. PM Barrow explained what the two proposals were.
“In return for what would then be the unanimous acceptance of the deferral of the 3% adjustment to next year April at that time government would also pay a 5% interest rate on the sum deferred which I think should basically come up to something like $600,000 which would then prorated among the recipients of the deferred salary adjustment. That is one off, that doesn’t carry forward. With respect to the social security expanded coverage which I have signalled from before I absolutely support that would have to come about by way of an amendment to section 13 of the Social Security Act. The Unions can form a working group to go over the sort of language that would give what we all want but also contain safeguard restrictions against abuse. Once they done that they will get that to me, we are happy with it the draftsman in the AGs ministry will then prepare it for submission to the house, Cabinet will naturally look at it, we take it to the house and try to pass it at the earliest but naturally having it go to a committee at which the public will be entitled to weigh in. In other words passage of the amendments cannot be guaranteed it’s a matter for the national assembly and certainly we introducing those amendments would be supportive but the processes will have to be followed.”
At the end of the meeting President of the BNTU Luke Palacio declined comment saying he needs to take it back to the council of management. However, the President of the PSU, Eldred Neal, and President of the APSSM, Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer told the media why they accepted the proposal and in effect accepted the deferral.
“I want to say that both of the presentations today are taken, will be considered, membership I want to take the opportunity to speak to them, please look at your emails those of you who have been in the chain, if you don’t’ have it expect it from your chair person and in fact I think we are heading in the right direction and it brings me right back to the position that I have maintained, negotiations are still on.”
“From the very beginning we were for the deferral and I’ve said to people based on the feedback I got from my members even before arbitration or Earl so that our position remained the same, we are agreeable to what was proposed to us today.”
The Council of Management of the BNTU met this afternoon to discuss government’s proposal. Love News has confirmed that the strike continues tomorrow when members of the union will participate in branch meetings countrywide to decide whether to accept Barrow’s proposal or continue with the strike. The Prime Minister Barrow says he is hopeful that it’s the former.
“I don’t know how much further I can go, my position that I put forward on Thursday that is it. I received a communication from a good samaritan that if I moved up the meeting there was a likelihood that we could reach an agreement and naturally the quicker we can end the strike the better. While I cannot presume as to the outcome of the council of management meeting this afternoon , my proposals did seem to meet with the qualified approval, if I can frame it like that, of those present but these people have to go back to their principals and so I would leave it there but that was the reason for bringing forward the meeting. If we can reach agreement today the strike is off tomorrow and that is government’s primary concern.”
BNTU’S National President Luke Palacio addressed a number of teachers at the union’s head quarters and one of the points he made was that the PSU and the APSSM are benefiting from the teacher’s effort.
“On the points that we’ve raised with the Prime Minister we’ve got movement on the matters we were striking for. The council believes that those things we have achieved are satisfactory, our members had said to us that if we are going to accept a deferral of our salary you must compensate us and Prime Minister in writing your branch presidents will be able to show you those letters have agreed to compensate for the salary deferral at the rate of 5% and we feel that from where the Prime Minister had said nowhere the other two unions had said yes they too will benefit because of the resilience of the BNTU.”
According to the Presidents of the PSU and APSSM, this is not so.
“Never, this was a joint negotiation. Had we chosen to walk away some time earlier we would not have been here and that is my position. Once you are at the negotiation table it is for all members. It was never about teachers or public servants it was always for the broader public.
Reporter: But had the teachers not demonstrated there wouldn’t be compensation.
“That is not so, the negotiations were still ongoing and in fact we had a number of matters tailor made that were presented, deferral was a proposition brought to the table it was not decided on.”
“It is only today that that issue was addressed. I need to reiterate the fact that negotiations was ongoing. So saying that in fact we would not have gotten any benefits, had the teachers not strike that is not true. That is not true. We have been in this from 2008 as joint unions.”
Also forming part of the meeting was Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight.