While President Elena Smith is concerned over the fact that the public was informed prior to the unions, some corners of the private sector are concerned over the offers given to the unions. Since March 2020, businesses have downsized, and some have even closed its doors due to the downturn in the global economy. To date many are jobless while some are under-employed, yet the public officers and teachers spent the last thirteen weeks clamouring against the salary cut and increment freeze. The debate remains live particularly on social media where many are of the opinion that if the private sector could have sacrificed cuts and employment, the public sector should be able to handle a ten percent cut with no compensation. Our News Director Renee Trujillo spoke to the Prime Minister earlier today, with one question in mind: ‘why the compromise with the unions?’
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: In a meeting between union leaders and government representatives on May 13 a final offer was presented. The final offer is a bag of goodies that the government is hoping will satisfy the public officers and teachers who keep rejecting the ten percent salary cut and an increment freeze. While the unions may be happy with the offers there are voices in the private sector that have found it unnecessary especially considering that many businesses countrywide have shut down, terminated employees and in many cases put their workers on salary cuts ranging from ten to fifty percent. Prime Minister John Briceno says that he understands that upset of the private sector but as partners with the public sector he found it important to compromise.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “I can understand the frustration in many Belizeans and feeling that we are giving special attention to the unions and also to the teachers union but we also need to accept the fact that they are our partners and that we work together to be able to provide the necessary services to our citizens.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: The current fiscal crisis that Belize faces is not unknown to the unions nor is the need for austerity measures. Despite knowing this the past thirteen weeks have seen union leaders organizing protests and on some occasions changing the goal posts for government officials wavering between a fight against the salary cut and a push for good governance. With just over six months in office the Briceno administration has come under severe pressure to fix the economy and to do so quickly. After having to delay the national budget debate and after having put off classes due to strike action the two parties remain around the negotiating table. Prime Minister Briceno says the government’s main objective is to pull Belize out of the financial mess it is in.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “It’s not that these meant that it’s not compensation. It’s simply a matter where we can make it easier for everyone. For us the easiest thing would have been to go the IMF way. We could have fired three thousand public officers and raised taxes but if you raise taxes then you have a lot of businesses that are barely making it they would not be able to afford to pay the new taxes and so we would have had even bigger problems. So we felt that the best way to move forward at this time is to be able to tell them okay here are the targets that we have, we have to cut your salary but then join us in making sure we could meet these targets. You see if we meet the targets that we have set forth we are going to be able to fix this country, going to fix the financial situation of the country.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Prime Minister Briceno went on record to say that this is the final offer that the government will be putting on the table. He told Love News in an exclusive interview that the government has a five year plan that they need to fully engage in and end this impasse once and for all. He says it is important for the public to see that the easiest route for the government would have been the IMF way.
John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “We need the public service employees and the teachers for them to feel that they are a part of the work that we’re doing in government. They know that the entire country is going under this problem and I believe that they also know deep down that there have to be some kind of cuts. So what we have done to ease as best as we possibly can to them is telling them yes we are going to proceed with the pay cut but lets set some targets. We have our targets for the next five years and we said that in our primary budget that if we meet the targets anything that we do over the targets then we are prepared to use that and give it to them as a bonus. In effect we’re saying that jointly mek we try fix things quicker. Let’s ensure that we could collect the revenues, let’s ensure that we could create more efficiencies, let’s ensure that we’re not wasting money in government. So we believe that by doing that we have brought them in and it is now in their interest for us to succeed as a government.”