Things have been coming to a head for the last few days between the Government of Belize and the Public Service Union. The back and forth has to do with the Government’s request to the union for increments to be frozen and foregone for the fiscal year 2020-2021. The PSU has since told the Government that they are not willing to forego the increment but that public officers could wait for the Government to regain its footing for them to be paid. Prime Minister Dean Barrow says, ‘no way’; he says it cannot be a case that Heads of Department, CEOs, Ministers and others are taking cuts in their salaries and allowances and the PSU gets to be owed the increments. Prime Minister held a press conference this morning to present his argument on this issue.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “It is in that context that the GOB proposal requiring the most minimal of sacrifices from those paid by the public purse must be seen. All we are asking is that public officers and teachers give up increments for fiscal year 2020-2021. In the case of heads of departments and other senior public officers they have reached the top of their scales and so they get no increments accordingly they are being asked to give up half of their entertainment allowances. CEOs are to sacrifice 5% of their gratuity and a portion of their allowances and all other contract officers are similarly to give up some gratuity and some allowances. Ministers have foregone one month salary and $800 monthly in allowances. Thus the increment freeze group is in dollar terms being asked for the smallest amount of all.”
While the the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) has taken the stage in the last Senate meeting to explain that in such a case of this COVID-19 pandemic, it is understood that all hands must be on deck, their sister union, PSU says they are not that understanding. As a matter of fact, in a letter from the PSU to the Prime Minister, the PSU suggested some actions the Government could take as part of its cost cutting measures; some of those had to do with further cuts of allowances and salaries. According to the Prime Minister the PSU is being selfish.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “In the circumstances I am utterly confounded by the intransigence of particularly the PSU. Private sector jobs have been decimated by the pandemic. In excess of 80,000 persons have had to apply for unemployment relief. The plight of all those without even food is horrendous. So, GOB has been obliged, even in the face of the revenue collapse, to hear their cry and to roll out assistance to them. The IDB has just confirmed that of all tourism dependent economies in the world Belize is the third worst hit. But in the middle of this widespread social and economic devastation, in the face of the well over 80,000 persons without jobs and wherewithal, Government of Belize still insists on protecting the substantive salaries of public officers. That notwithstanding, they refuse to make even the tiny sacrifice we are asking. I say without reservation their position is unacceptable. They do have a proud tradition of sacrifice but they are demeaning it now by their unreasonableness. Everybody else must suffer, everybody else must sacrifice, but not them.”
The situation has brought the two parties at an impasse. According to the Prime Minister, the proposal to the PSU will help the Government with 17 million dollars in meeting their recurrent expenditure. He added that even if the matter goes to court the court would not be able to order them to pay what they do not have.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “What we put to them will save only 17 million dollars all told. That is a drop in the bucket given that we are looking at a larger than 450 million-dollar, pandemic-induced recurrent revenue shortfall for this fiscal year. That’s almost half of the projected revenue collection or what was budgeted for recurrent revenue collection. This situation, I repeat, cannot be countenanced and Government of Belize is going to do what we must. The PSU talks about going to Court. Well, I will remind them that no court can oblige the Government to pay what it simply does not have. But enough said on that and I apologize that it has detracted so damagingly from the fight and the unity effort required to bring us to safe harbor.”
The PSU in its letter dated today has suggested that the Government cut the allowances paid to Ministers and Area Representatives including their entertainment allowances; that they stop making payments in lieu of leave to government officials; that they refrain from purchasing new vehicles with the exception of ambulances; that they refrain from hiring any additional public officer and that they do an audit of all government departments to rationalize the current staff of public officers. Love News understands that the unions will be meeting this weekend to chart their response to the current situation.