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“Everything is on the table:” Government to talk to unions, others about economy

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Posted: Saturday, January 9, 2021. 1:40 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: “We have to look at everything,” Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, John Briceño, told reporters yesterday concerning acting on the high wage and pension bill, not to mention other expenses.

The combined wage and pension bill is now more than 80 percent of the budget after the latest increases; the Government has promised as well to raise minimum wage to $5 an hour.

It is therefore necessary for the Government to consult with the trade unions, particularly the Public Service Union (PSU) and Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU), whom he described as partners in helping to figure out the way forward.

Asked directly whether it will be necessary to conduct retrenchment exercises and cut wages by 20 percent, Briceño said it had not been considered: “We haven’t considered anything. As I said, we have a blank paper and we are going to sit down with our partners and together we will have to make the decisions. And whatever decisions come that will be able to get us on a sustainable footing, we are going to do that.”

“But we cannot continue spending money we don’t have,” he added, “as that would risk crashing the economy. ”

The work is left to a special economic recovery task force – “the best of the best” from each sector, to come up with ideas to re-open the economy, subject to health regulations mandated by COVID-19. The Health Ministry’s own COVID-19 task force is following the science and increasing testing to identify and contain the spread of the virus to help the economy re-open. Cases have gone down recently, but not enough, Briceño said, to justify relaxing current regulations.

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