Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2023. 10:11 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The trio of public sector trade unions – the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU), the Public Service Union (PSU), and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) – say they are not willing to let go of the issue of frozen increments to public sector workers.
They insist that they have seen no evidence to suggest anything that would stop increments from being restored as part of the forthcoming budget, that is, the one to be implemented for the fiscal year 2023-2024.
As part of a comprehensive press conference this afternoon, PSU president Dean Flowers indicated that in their last meeting on December 20, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance indicated that he was not willing to restore increments in the upcoming fiscal year, nor that he would upgrade the point where public officers ought to be when increments do resume – which is not yet guaranteed.
Flowers charged that the “open discussion” scheduled at that time didn’t happen: “He simply looked at the document and arrogantly said to us, ‘No, no, no’ and at one time didn’t even want to have a discussion. So I would have to wonder what his definition of an open discussion is.”
And the unions haven’t forgotten, he added, the “disrespect” workers suffered when the Prime Minister intimated in 2021 that they had not made any sacrifices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when in fact it was those at the top who escaped.
The increments were expected to save $17 million per year from the budget, per Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, but the government obtained $240 million in supplemental budgetary funding in the last year, not to mention increased allowances for himself and Chief Executive Officers.
Elena Smith, president of the BNTU, noted that the increments frozen for 2020-2021 were legitimately earned, as would be those in succeeding years, so they are not a gift to workers but what they rightfully earned by their work.
She noted that the Prime Minister’s position so far appears to be his own and not necessarily that of the Government’s negotiating team led by Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde – but that body has yet to meet with the Joint Unions Negotiating Team for 2023 and they await that meeting to hear what the formal position is.
As for industrial action, Smith gave her standard response of “wait and see.”
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