The rumor mill has been working at a fast pace over the last few days indicating that public officers and teachers would suffer a cut in salaries. The Public Service Union (PSU) and the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) have gotten wind of the reports and have both come out criticizing the government for the possible cut in salaries. On the PSU’s part the Vice President is saying that the union has learned that the government is yet to follow through with the ten percent cut in salaries that they announced last year. On this ground, and several others the PSU says they are not encouraged to agree with the cut in salaries. On the BNTU’s part, President Elena Smith noted that it is difficult for teachers to agree to a cut when nothing is being done to persons who have stolen from the public coffers. In speaking with Prime Minister Briceno on Friday, he indicated that the proposal for a 15% salary cut for public officers and teachers is a recommendation from the Belize Business Bureau, and that it did not come from the government.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “What I can tell you is that we gave a presentation to them on what is the financial situation and whether it is fake or not, I know that I got 2; the first one and then the second one which was the corrected one or at least that was the one that I got from them where it’s saying that it is their recommendation and that is not a recommendation from government.”
Reporter: Clarifying, the government did not proposed that to them at all?
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “No, we did not proposed that to them at all.”
Reporter: “Is that amiable to you sir, you’ve already taken 10% as ministers.”
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “Right we have already taken 10% and as I pointed out from quite some time ago that we have a $500 million dollar deficit that the UDP government left us with and we have to find a way how we are going to address it and our idea with the consultations is that we want to go to social partners and to the unions who are our partners in government and say well this is what we have. How can we best close this gap as best as possibly can ? Because we have to put Belize back into financial sustainability, on a footing of financial sustainability because we can’t continue. We can’t do another $500 million dollars this year in a this new financial year it’s impossible.”
Reporter: So a cut is coming for public servants because you also said we’re going to set the tone. That means that it will follow for public servants.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “That’s what you are saying. As I told you the first time around when we spoke about this, we are going with a blank sheet and let’s sit down and see how best. We want to hear from them and I hope that they are also going to be mature enough to see what is the problem. They see the numbers on a daily basis. They see how much monies we’re collecting, they know the shortfalls, they know the deficits and that they would act as true partners with us and then come up with something that is amenable and that could address the issue now. We can’t wait one or two years – we are looking at taxes for instance. We can’t raise taxes in a time when businesses are struggling to survive.”
There were 19 other recommendations from the Belize Business Bureau, including the reduction of contract hires by 30%, starting with the highest paid ones at the top; changing the pension age or retirement age to 65 with option for early retirement at 60 with adjustments to payout and pension benefits; the combination of public pensions to social security where the pension benefits total only reaches 75% of former salary, and the cutting of phone, fuel and other benefits by fifty percent. One point of contention brought up last week by the Public Service Union is that they had already submitted a list of suggested austerity measures, but the Government is yet to meet with them. Vice President Dean Flowers spoke on this issue and several others including allegations that the ministers are yet to take the paycut they promised.
Dean Flowers, Vice President, Public Service Union: ““I can categorically say that last night and over the course of last week we’ve been speaking with several public officers who would be able to assist us with these kind of information because I also want to say that the Ministry of Finance via – and I want to speak specifically where the Financial Secretary is concerned- there has been what I would personally call I’m not saying that is the case but there has been this hostile kind of approach whereby the Financial Secretary simply continues to fail to give the union the kind of information the union needs to make informed decisions. We’ve made multiple requests for information and so now we’re having to find ourselves going through the backdoor and I can say going that route we are making progress and I can say that this administration has not taken the pay cut that they promised that they would have taken. You cannot be saying to the country that we all need to make sacrifices and we are now learning that the people who are making the most are the ones who are not only making the least sacrifice but are not making any sacrifice at all. Information is also within the judiciary and I guess because they’re legal people and it would have amounted into a legal war understand in the judiciary they didn’t make any sacrifice last year even with their contracts – their gratuity should have been touched, it was never touched so we’re operating in an animal system right now where those who sit at the top of the pyramid are not making absolutely any sacrifice and those information we will use in our negotiation to say the sacrifice has to be equitable it cannot be equally it has to be equitable. The more you earn the more you’ll have to give back. So primarily it will assist us in establishing different positions in terms of how we approach the discussions surrounding possible salary cuts, threats of retrenchment and these types of things that is the primary reason and it will also assist us to make an informed decision and to be fair with the people and the Government of Belize because we know we have to make a sacrifice but it has to be across the board it cannot be only public officers who are already bearing the brunt of the tax burden.”
According to the Prime Minister, the government has looked at the suggested measures from the Public Service Union, but they will still not be enough to make a marked difference.
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “The cost saving measures that they have already recommended to the financial secretary, the financial secretary has pointed out to us that is only going to save about 1%. It’s nowhere close to where we need to be. 1% of GDP and the deficit for this year is going to be close to 13% of GDP. That is why I’m saying that we are hoping that the Public Service Union and the BNTU would also be responsible enough to know that sacrifices have to be made. Even people from the private sector, the membership of the Chamber of Commerce is saying the same thing, the private sector has taken some serious hits they have cut salaries, in many instances people have been fired but yet the public service have not done anything to try to do some sort of realignment and readjustments and that has to be done and some of the proposals that they have, and I haven’t seen them seriously but will take time for it to be – we have to take measures that we can see the results immediately and I wish I could tell you I just won the jackpot to say that we don’t have to do these things but the truth of the matter is that all of us have to start to make some kind of sacrifice. I don’t want anyone to get sacrifices but that is what is in front of us.”
The Government has since extended an invitation to meet with the unions on Wednesday, February 10. Regarding the proposed salary cut, the PSU issued a release saying, quote, “The PSU wishes to state for the record that we reject any such highhanded approach and attack on Public Officers salary and more importantly against the livelihood of our members. Fully cognizant of the dire financial constraints that the Government of Belize finds itself in, the PSU is accepting Governments invitation in good faith with an aim to lend support for meaningful, fair and effective cost cutting and revenues enhancement measures. The PSU approach promises to be one of maturity and soberness, with a view of ensuring that there is a holistic undertaking in addressing the budget deficit.” End of quote. Earlier today the mother of all the unions, the National Trade Union Congress issued a release stating, “ We take this opportunity to encourage all our social partners, stakeholders and involved citizenry to maintain civil discourse, to denounce bias and harmful rhetoric and to respect the autonomy and capacity of all partners in development of our country. Despite the different level of contributions to Belize’s economic advancement, our shared efforts must be equally recognized and sacrifices equitably shared. Our economic reform narrative must not be overshadowed or distorted with press releases and propaganda that harms the need for a unified advancement that depends on our collective wisdom as equally interested partners and potential beneficiaries.” End of quote. //////