Headline — 22 January 2013
Barrow says “no!” to teachers’ raise-a-pay

Pay raise “a complete financial impossibility”: PM Dean Barrow

Teachers will demonstrate on Tuesday, January 29

Last Thursday afternoon, January 17, The Belize District branch of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) held a meeting at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall, which was attended by over 500 teachers.

The branch voted overwhelmingly, by secret ballot, that they would suspend classes on Tuesday, January 29, to travel to Belmopan to protest outside the weekly Cabinet meeting, against the lack of progress in their salary increase talks.

The Branch president, Kathleen Flowers, said that the joint negotiating team had been meeting with GOB for the past two years for a salary increase, in addition to other benefits, but to no avail.

At the time of the Belize District branch meeting, all the various branches of the union also held meetings and voted on a plan of action. All these decisions will be sent to the National President, Luke Palacio, and he and his Council of Management will then decide which way the wind will blow, and further industrial action has not been ruled out.

Today, after his press conference about the Super Bond at the Biltmore Hotel, Prime Minister Dean Barrow let the teachers, and the nation, know which way his wind will blow.

The Prime Minister called the teachers’ demands “a complete financial impossibility,” saying that he was prepared to discuss alternatives, but absolutely no raise-a-pay.

At the Thursday meeting, teachers had said that if the government could find money to pay criminals to keep down crime, it could find money to pay them more. They denounced the Government, and insisted that it has the means to increase their salaries.

“I don’t know what there is to denounce,” Barrow stated, in reference to their remarks. “The government’s position was we don’t have the money at this time. This is an extraordinary juncture [at] which to propose to adding over 300 or almost 350 million dollars to the wage bill which already presents in excess of 50 percent of the current revenue. So at this juncture to ask what is being asked is putting everything that we’re securing at risk, jeopardizing the future,” the Prime Minister said.

The PM said that if the government were to accommodate the salary increase demands, it would require the government taking certain measures that would affect the entire country, like raising the GST on the population to in excess of 25 percent. The PM said that he considers that going too far.

This morning, the General Council of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize( NTUCB) met and sent out a release that stated it “wishes to express its total and unconditional solidarity with its three affiliates: namely the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM), the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) and the Public Service Union (PSU) in the stand they have taken as it relates to the current status of their Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations on a salary adjustment.”

The Congress also wished to point out that “while the government of Belize has attempted to stave off tax increases, it has been unable to restrain inflation. The working middle class continues to sustain the nation’s economy while we tightrope dangerously at the edge of the poverty cliff. We wish to mention that the increase in electricity rates and the high cost of fuel are yet increases the workers of this country will have to bear.”

According to the NTUCB, “the last salary adjustment public sector workers of this nation had seen was approved back in 2001, but the final tranche of the increase was implemented in 2005 and did not allow for any inflation adjustment from then until now.”

The NTUCB contends that since the initiation of this negotiations process in 2008, the process has “dragged out for far too long.”

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