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Trade dispute with unions: P.M. says “we need to move on”

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Posted: Monday, June 7, 2021. 9:12 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: It appears the final offer made by Prime Minister John Briceno and his negotiating team last month to the Joint Unions is in fact final.

After “many meetings” since February, and “endless hours” of discussion, the Government, Briceño said today, is getting tired of believing there has been an agreement with the leadership, only to have it rejected by the membership.

Enough is enough, the P.M. said: “We have done everything that we have been able to do and in my last letter I told them that that is the final offer that we can do, and we need to move on. We have a government to run; we have a country to fix; we have people that are in poverty and need to get back to work, and we are moving on.”

The door is always open for other issues to be discussed, but those “eleven points” of the unions are a no-go, despite the respect between the two sides, said the P.M.

He opined that it does not appear from the Zoom meetings called by the unions that much of the membership is behind them, and there is a “political element” that is trying to keep the fight going in support of the Opposition. He characterized the unions’ last response as “political and very rude,” while insisting that he only accuses some of the leadership, not all, as politically motivated.

While he said he respected Senator Elena Smith, leader of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU), and former president of the Public Service Union (PSU) Gerald Henry, he denounced Henry’s successor, Dean Flowers, as a tool of old rival Gaspar Vega: “We know that it is Gaspar Vega who brought him into government, and you can hear when he speaks that his words are laced with politics in it,” adding “You can’t throw stones when you live in a glasshouse, no?”

The pay cuts will hurt, the P.M. conceded, but not nearly as much for the public sector as those in the private sector that lost everything.

The P.M. said he would be prepared to sit if it could be ensured that any agreement is final, but the negotiating team – Cordel Hyde, Francis Fonseca, and Senator Chris Coye – represents the most senior level of the Cabinet, and that the hard work he and his Government are putting in will benefit the unions as well.

Belize cannot afford hyperinflation from “printing money” in Treasury Bonds and Notes, nor a devaluation.

And the Government, he said, spent not a penny on any attack ads against the unions; he characterized them simply as telling the other side of the situation against those who “said everything that came to their mouth.” Asked directly if he approved the ads, he replied, “It was not done by me; it was not done by the Government…It is not something I did as Prime Minister,” later saying he did not personally approve scripts and plans for the ads in question.

He did concede that some in his party felt differently about the government not doing enough to defend its decision. And to allay concerns that the membership did not have enough information, he took to the airwaves himself to outline the Government’s proposals, for which he was strongly criticized by the Union leadership.

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