The salary adjustment is for teachers and public officers
Just before the close of the working day today, Thursday, Financial Secretary Joseph Waight and Budget Director Artemio Osorio concluded meetings at the headquarters of the Belize National Teachers’ Union in Belize City, with union officials having reached a consensus—after months of tense negotiations—that teachers and public officers will be paid a 6% salary adjustment effective the end of July but retroactive to the start of the budget year, April 1, 2014.
Dylan Reneau, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, told Amandala this evening that the adjustment would be applied to an estimated 12,000 teachers and public officers, including military officers and police.
Waight told Amandala that this will mean an additional $22 million in budgetary outlays over the next year, which reflects 50% of additional recurrent revenue which the Government received during the financial year (2013-2014) from sources such as the shipping and international business corporation registries over which the Government assumed full control in 2013 after rescinding its contractual agreement with the private parties which were managing them on the Government’s behalf.
Marvin Blades, the president of the Public Service Union (PSU), one of the lead negotiators for the unions, told Amandala this evening that for the past three months, the unions have been working with Financial Secretary Waight on specific figures for wage and wage-related grants, as well as salary adjustments for personal emoluments, and yesterday finance officers on their team were working with Waight on the last set of numbers. Blades said that their officers have verified the financial information by doing checks at the Treasury, and on the Government’s Smart Stream accounting system.
According to Waight, the next step is to finalize the pay scales so that workers can be paid in July. He said that the salary agreement should form part of the overall collective bargaining agreements which the unions and the Government are still trying to hammer out, but which have not been concluded because there are still some unresolved issues.
Waight said that a similar process will follow for years 2 and 3 of the salary adjustment, which would be applied based on an agreement between the parties that the Government will again share half of the increase in recurrent revenue with workers and apply those towards potential salary adjustments. Blades said, however, that the salary adjustment does not apply to contract officers.
As to questions from taxpayers over whether the salary adjustment will necessitate a hike in taxes, Waight told Amandala that, “There is no intention to increase taxes simply to pay for public service wages.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, said at yesterday’s press conference in Belize City that the teachers and public officers will be getting a 6% salary adjustment.
“When you add that with the annual 3% increment, you’re talking about a global figure of 9%,” said Barrow.
Barrow suggested that any further increases would trigger a tax hike. He said that the Government cannot do more without passing on the bill to taxpayers.
Union executives have indicated that no new tax burdens should be placed on Belizeans in order to meet their salary adjustments during this or subsequent years.
In February, we had reported on an announcement from the Ministry of Finance that teachers and public officers would be getting a 4% salary adjustment amounting to an estimated $24 million on July 1, 2014, retroactive to the start of the financial year, April 1, 2014. However, that estimate was based on preliminary data and the final figure was pending the reassessment of the 2013-2014 budget out-turn.
Barrow said that while the unions are also asking for an increase in the $500 threshold for income tax payments, such a move would mean less funds would be available to meet the salary adjustment, because it would result in “a decrease in the very revenue that we have to collect to pay them this huge salary increase. It can’t work.”
He said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has said that it disapproves of the salary adjustments, had suggested that the income tax threshold should instead be reduced to $250 or so, because in the view of the IMF, too many people are escaping the tax net.
The union indicated to the media this week that there are 5 outstanding issues on the negotiation table, and they take umbrage with a letter from the Government calling for the negotiations to conclude next week.
One outstanding issue is health insurance. The unions have also been lobbying for public servants, particularly those such as firefighters who are most at risk, to be covered by insurance.
Barrow told the press yesterday that the unions have asked for the Government to fund a health insurance scheme at a cost of roughly $7 million dollars annually, but the Government is in the process of rolling out the National Health Insurance scheme.
“We are giving you all that we can in terms of your salary increases, but you still say to us that we are going to form a Rod of Correction against you because you don’t agree to pay seven million dollars a year for health insurance for us,” Barrow commented, referring to the alliance dubbed ROC, which was launched last week to address a range of outstanding grievances with the Barrow administration.
The unions told the media Wednesday that the unions were not properly given an opportunity to put forward their case on those 5 issues and the Government was dismissive. It gave no indication that it would even consider the proposal to institute health insurance packages for teachers and public officers, the unions indicated.
They have told the media that they have received a letter from the Government, saying that they want to formally close negotiations by next Thursday, June 19, when, it appears, the Government wants to finally ink the Collective Bargaining Agreement – CBA.
There also appears to be an unresolved dispute over lost increments. According to the Prime Minister, the unions had indicated that there was a gentleman’s agreement made in 1995/1997 to address lost increments, and that the current administration should make up for the increments that the former administration did not pay.
Even as the unions have expressed their discontent with the current state of affairs, the Government is maintaining that it has given all it can.
“I am sorry. The Collective Bargaining Agreement has to come to an end. You haven’t gotten everything that you asked for, but by god, you’ve gotten ninety percent,” he said, adding that they can do no more.