Pension Reform to Come in Phases

Pension Reform to Come in Phases

Another major topic of discussion in today’s meeting is the pension reform exercise that GOB wants to undertake. This program is aimed at strengthening the country’s current pension system, which includes increasing the retirement age for public officers and introducing a mandatory contribution scheme for public officers. PSU President, Dean Flowers, says they have not reached a definite agreement with GOB regarding the pension reform exercise. 

Dean Flowers, President, PSU: “In terms of the issue of pensions it is not hinged as Sister Elena rightly said on the restoration or unfreezing or the resumption of the payment of increments one is not tied to the other. But in terms of progress where pension reform is concerned we’re very pleased that we’ve been heard, that it cannot be a one size fir all or whatever that phrase is. The government has recognized that they need to look at the existing public officers in the system versus those new in the system. No plan, no decision, no scheme, nothing has been proposed. Those will be forthcoming as I understand from the Government’s side and then we’ll take those to our membership for them to look at and for them to modify, enhance or agree to.”

President of the National Teachers Union of Belize, Senator Elena Smith, took this opportunity to clear the air of any misconceptions surrounding the JUNT’s alleged request to have this situation finalized by April first.

Elena Smith, President, BNTU: “We didn’t suggest any date. It was them who told us April 1st. We have said to them that we were not in agreement with April 1st because we had to have these discussions. You  can’t just put something on the table just like that without having these discussions and see what will be the implication on our members for something such a pension reform.”

After today’s negotiation between the JUNT and GOB, an agreement has been met on the government’s proposal to implement the reform in phases. Minister of Education, Francis Fonseca, explains that the first phase will focus on addressing new entrants into the system. With the progress made so far, he is hopeful that the remaining issues will be resolved in the coming weeks.

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: That’s why we have really insisted and felt very strongly about getting it started. So that’s why I’m saying to you that no later than July 1st we want to start the new scheme but that initial phase will only affect new public officers entering the public service. Now that’s a big step, that’s an important step, that’s as we keep saying these are not decisions that will benefit this government. If we stay in government for fifteen years it won’t benefit us, these are long term sustainability issues. So it’s for future generations. We’re making the right decisions, the responsible decisions for future generations so that we can have sustainability. So I think you know we’re approaching it as I said in two phases so that first phase we’re getting it started, we want to send a very clear message by starting by saying listen we’re serious about pension reform, we want to get it started, we want to get it done and then we have this ongoing discussion with the unions and with others about phase two, about how we can then look at the existing scheme that we have in place now and see what changes have to be made to preserve the integrity of that scheme moving forward.”

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