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Prime Minister responds to unions: Increments are on the table, but reform is needed

Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2023. 2:51 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceño has responded to the Joint Unions on the issue of collective bargaining and reforms to financing the public sector.

Speaking to reporters earlier today, he announced that his deputy Cordel Hyde, who leads the Government’s negotiating team, is scheduling a meeting with the Joint Union Negotiating Team to outline the first steps toward restoring increments that were frozen in 2020 as part of austerity measures tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of revenue.

But the P.M. insists that when increments do return, they should be based on merit and that the alternative was a lot worse: “They [the public officers and teachers] got their full 100 percent of their salary [during the pandemic year], so it was time for them to make some sacrifice. We could have been political with the decision back then because one of the recommendations of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] was that we need to dismiss at least three thousand employees and in good conscience, we just could not do that,” adding that the majority of those would have likely been United Democratic Party (UDP) supporters as only they were being hired.

The freeze goes for three years while the salary cut was restored after one year. The P.M. said that as the wage bill goes up, there is less for services in the social sector, infrastructure, and so on. But he insists that the unions are Government’s partners despite their differences and that both love the country as much as the other.

On the issue of pension reform, the Prime Minister said that more than $100 million will be paid out this year and $130 million by 2025 and that Belize is one of the few countries whose public sector pays out the entire pension of public service workers, which is unsustainable. Two models are being created: one by the actuary for the Social Security Board (SSB) Hernando Perez Montas, and one from the IMF.

Notably, Public Service Union (PSU) President Dean Flowers has insisted that public sector workers will not pay into such a scheme without necessary reform in the issue of taxes and Government revenue among other things.


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