Following the Business Forum today, Prime Minister Dean Barrow made himself available to the media via a press conference in which he addressed several issues surrounding various sectors. Since the announcement of the national elections, there has been a spike in demands for increased wages and benefits. Of recent, those clamouring for it have been the University of Belize faculty and staff as well as the employees of the Social Security Board. The last few days have seen protests from both entities in which they either been shutting down classes, not wearing uniforms, toting placards on their lunch break and as recent as yesterday, the majority of union members from SSB, walking out of their offices at three o’clock and going home. Prime Minister Dean Barrow did not seem fazed by these recent occurrences and did comment on the matter.
“Those that are asking for raises and engaging in industrial action – part of the democracy and I suppose to be expected since the elections are imminent and the feeling has to be that now is the time to get from government what you will; now is the time to exercise leverage. Unfortunately, in two of the cases that you’ve mentioned there was already a commitment to a timeline with respect to Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. In the case of Social Security, I gather the schedule of meetings certainly was agreed upon and expected to go well into December before they can arrive at a point where there is any possibility of an agreement. Walking out and protesting will, in my view, do nothing to accelerate that schedule to which they agreed and so while I am not surprised or even disappointed at the course of action embarked upon, it won’t get them anywhere. Likewise, with the people at UB, my understanding is that there is a consultancy that’s been in fact engaged that is looking at comparators, at seeing where salaries are in the private sector, in the public sector in Belize and where salaries are with universities in the region, all of which data is supposed to be fed into the negotiating process; that negotiating process again, clearly cannot be concluded before November 4. So, while as I say the efforts to force Government’s hand is to be expected, those efforts cannot in the circumstances be successful.”
Later in our newscast we will tell you what the SSB’s Chairman response is to a release sent out yesterday by the Christian Workers Union on behalf of its membership at the Social Security Board.