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Unions say no progress in negotiations with Government; strike continues

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Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2021. 7:25 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The national strike among the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU); Public Service Union (PSU); and Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) will continue up to at least next week Thursday after a meeting with the Government of Belize’s representatives ended without resolution this afternoon.

There was no agreement yet, said PSU president Gerald Henry, on any of the eleven points raised by the unions; indeed, the negotiations have not gone beyond point two.

After meeting with members who had been picketing the House of Culture this morning, the respective heads of each union – Senator Elena Smith, Henry and Chief Magistrate Sharon Frazer – flanked by PSU first vice president Dean Flowers and president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize Luis “Luke” Martinez, addressed the press.

Frazer explained that new proposals had been made by Government about the salary cut of 10 percent across the board, but “until it is our members say yea or nay, it really would not be fair to speak to that without getting to [our members] first. So, there very well might be wriggle room, it all depends on what membership says.”

For now, added Smith, “what we did today was to insist of our membership position that they are not in agreement with the salary cut and that was clearly put to the table and they are aware of that. We ended the meeting at that point; they are going back to have their discussions and we will do the same.”

Responding to reports that the unions have conceded that they have been boxed in legally by the Constitutional provision that the Minister of the Public Service can set salaries with the approval of the Governor-General, Frazer agreed that there is a legal right afforded to him to do so, but that in their view he has failed to properly consult as also called for by the legislation.

But Flowers, while speaking on the issue of victimization of public officers for participating in industrial action, said that because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.

“…the very manner in which our Constitution is written fosters dictatorship and slavery. When a Minister can issue a decree that he will cut salaries without any ground rules, that is a breach of my fundamental rights. Section 106(3) must be challenged, and that is a matter that the unions must seek redress on. There must be some things that trigger the Minister’s ability to wake up one morning and decides he wants to address salaries. We are not saying he cannot do it; we are saying that he [cannot] do it by a matter of decree,” he stated.

The BNTU has been on strike since last week Monday, April 26; by length this will surpass their 11-day strike in October of 2016. The PSU joined them this past Monday, May 3; and technically the APSSM did so then as well.

We’ll have more coming up.

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