Public Officers Called In Sick Today
Public Officers in various government offices countrywide called in sick today. Some offices in Belize City that were affected include the Magistrate Court, Treasury Department, and Tax Services. Out west, workers at the Border Management Office were on a go-slow; the Agriculture Department and San Ignacio Magistrate court were operating on skeleton staff. The President of the Public Service Union (PSU), says he was not informed of any organized sick out taken as a form of group protest.
Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union: “When the Public Service Union makes a bold move of industrial action we would face the media in similar fashion and make that declaration. We know exactly what the dispute act says, which is that we would give government its notice. If it is that there was a mass sick out this morning it has to do clearly with the fact that mental health is affecting public officers and they need to stay home and try to figure out how they’ll maneuver through these tough economic times as well as a public service that is headed by individuals who have no business to be the accounting officers in these ministries because they are not looking after the welfare of the human resource that is under their care, their primary responsibility is to look after the welfare of the public officers and clearly they’re not doing that instead they are putting a whole lot of stress on public officers in addition to the economic strain that they’re already under. So I believe that might be the reason why we saw a number of public officers not showing up to work today. We’re living in difficult times, these are some serious times.”
Minister of Public Service, Henry Charles Usher, weighed in on this scenario that occurred at the different government offices. However, he notes that public officers have a right to express themselves in a manner they see fit.
Hon. Henry Charles Usher, Minister of Public Service: “Well we have to respect that right. We have to respect their right to express themselves as public officers, as union members and as fighting for what they feel they’re entitled to and that is a process that we had a discussion on just now. The whole idea of reform is one that both sides agree on. We have to do reform. We have to look at public sector reform on a whole in terms of the way the government is run, the way we raise revenue, tax reform, all of these issues are issues that we need to look at so that we can have a system that is as efficient and as fair as possible and I think that is the main issue. I think if you ask any public officer they just want the system to be fair, they want to make sure that what they are getting is what they deserve and they have every right to express themselves how they want.”
Due to the courts operating on minimal staff numbers today, the initial plan was that they would not open at all and all cases would be adjourned. Those who are there for new matters would have needed to return another day. However, Chief Magistrate, Sharon Fraser, says she personally went to open the courts when she got wind of the situation and was able to get the ball rolling today.
Sharon Fraser, Chief Magistrate: “My understanding is that the persons they called in sick right? So from my admin officer the information was that persons called in sick. I cannot tell them that they’re not sick. I know that like I said I was the one who went physically to open up the office and let in the Magistrates who were there so at least they could have addressed the adjournments of matters than then I’m gonna see this afternoon how I can address issues of any persons who have been detained would have been eligible for bail that the police themselves cannot deal with. So that is what I can tell you as far as that is concerned. Because you would have had persons who would have come maybe today they would have been told that this is the final day that they’re gonna come to court. We do need the support staff. People tend to take them for granted but they’re the ones who ensure that all the processes, the clerical processes are done and without them it’s hard for any court to function. So I don’t take them for granted it’s just let us – they’re not happy and this is the way they’ve shown they’re not happy but as you see I’m here trying to negotiate to ensure that public officers get what they’re asking for.”