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Ten percent salary cut may end early, Prime Minister says

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2022. 9:23 am CST.

By Benjamin Flowers: Prime Minister John Briceño said this week that signs of good economic recovery could mean that the 10 percent salary cut for teachers and public officers, which should be in place for three years, could end early.

Speaking to the Chanel 5 on Wednesday, Briceño said that Belize’s economy is rebounding much faster than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was predicting, moving from an originally estimated 2-3 percent up to 6 percent, and further projections of growth up to 15 percent for the end of 2021.

Briceño went on to say that, currently, growth estimates for this year are 6.2 percent, which could spell good news for the teachers and public officers, who had to bear a portion of the burden for economic recovery.

“…so we believe when we meet with the P.S.U. and the B.N.T.U. that we’ll be able to look at the salary cut and be able to see how we can start to go back to give back the amount that was cut. We know it’s for three years, but if we can do it tomorrow, I’d do it tomorrow, but we still have to look at the numbers,” Briceño said.

He noted that with all the growth and taxes performing well, he is certain that something can be done about the salary reduction, and that he will provide as much information to the unions as possible when government meets with them again.

The April 2021 salary cut and accompanying increment freeze was not well received by the unions, who took to the streets, blocked roads and even threatened to boycott media houses, in an effort to stop the cut, an effort that ultimately failed.

The unions heavily criticized the Briceño administration for cutting teachers’ salaries and freezing their increments, while allowing Chief Executive Officers and heads of departments to enjoy allowances such as housing, telephone, and entertainment, which added up to millions of dollars when spread across the entirety of the public service.

While some of those allowances were reduced, the unions say the administration did not do enough to cut unnecessary spending at the highest levels. They also criticized the administration for the hiring of new staff during an ongoing moratorium on doing so, calling it “hypocritical” to cut salaries but take on more people.

Coming into office, Briceño stressed that the previous administration left the country’s financial position in such disarray that the salary cut was necessary to save $60 million in salaries and another $20 million in increments. The administration implemented it despite advice from the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry that a salary cut at that time was not the best option. The administration did offer some concessions to those affected by the cut, including shortened working hours and preferential treatment for loans for the Development Finance Corporation.

In the wake of the salary cuts, a survey done by the Organizational Effectiveness Research Group at Minnesota University (OREG), showed that almost 90 percent of teachers and public officers are concerned about paying their bills. (See full story here)

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