There is a close correlation between a person’s retirement age, pension and social security benefits in that they normally fall relatively close to each other. Though a country’s standard retirement age varies, the norm is between the ages of 55 and 70 years; with some being higher. The retirement age for most countries in this region falls between 60 and 65 years. Belize on the other hand has one of the lowest mandatory retirement ages of 55 years for employees of the Public Service, the largest employer in the country. The only other country with a similarly low retirement age of 55 years is Haiti.
The variation between the retirement age for public servants and the age at which a person can access Belize’s Social Security benefits is wide — with the retirement age being 55 and the age for accessing social security benefits being 60 for retired persons and age 65 if you continue to work. This leaves a gap of 5 to 10 years leading to a level of uncertainty for retirees. Those in the private sector, according to the labour laws, may retire after attaining the age of 60 and after being employed for 10 years. Judges are given a little more time, with a retirement age of 65, but magistrates fall within the Public Service retirement scheme. According to a memo dated 2010 from the Ministry of Education, teachers are allowed to work until 60 once “they convey their decision in writing…to continue in the teaching profession in advance”.
In a country where there is a shortage of skilled labour, a small population of a little more than 350,000 and a rapidly growing immigrant population, Belizeans are being retired too early, thereby leaving the jobs open to less skilled, less trained and less experienced workers, in many cases to new immigrants. This is one of the many ways in which GOB and Parliament should collaborate for the good of the society. Parliament should debate and amend the retirement schemes in the most up-to-date and appropriate manner. A reliable source informs that the mandatory retirement age in Belize was higher but was reduced by the colonial administration to suit their own purposes. According to a Report of the Committee on the Re-Organization & Restructuring of the Public Service in Belize of 1982, “officers wishing to work up to 60 years on a pensionable basis should be allowed to do so”.
Those in favor of maintaining the early mandatory retirement age in Belize argue that the old need to make way for the younger employees who are seeking promotions and that employees reaching retirement age are anticipating their pensions or gratuity. However, many employees previously in favor of the policy realize near the retirement point that they are not ready to go and many remain as contract employees. The disadvantages of a retire-rehire employee in Belize is the instability and uncertainty it creates, since in most cases these are annual contracts. Also, increasing the mandatory retirement age will lessen the pension bill for GOB. GOB can also look at increasing its revenue base by creating a more efficient system of tax collection and other creative ways of generating wealth.
Alarmingly, in academia, the system is purging itself of some of the most valuable, the most gifted, the most qualified and most experienced faculty/professors because they fall within the mandatory public service retirement age of 55 years. Retirement age for academia, especially for faculty, should be beyond the regular public service age to ensure that these highly qualified people stay in the system as long as possible. This is also important for the encouragement of research and publications.
Where the security services and military are concerned, the early retirement age is conducive to and encourages the small size. According to officials at the Ministry of Defense, enlisted men in the BDF retire after serving for 22 years. Their enlistment is usually between the ages of 18 and 23; therefore they would retire at age 40 to 45. Commissioned officers with the rank of major or below, face mandatory retirement at age 42 and colonels and above face mandatory retirement at age 45. The Belize Coast Guard, the Police Department and other security services, on the other hand, fall under the Public Service retirement scheme.
With the current state of affairs in Belize involving internal security, increased crime and violence, the need for more jobs, the education of our population and the continuous breaching of our borders, Belize needs to keep its most talented people engaged longer. Perhaps one of the most pronounced needs may be security for the safeguarding of our sovereignty. Furthermore, the security forces should experience a significant increase in size. Belize spends millions of dollars training its military personnel then replaces them with less trained people while at the same time faced with a serious and unfounded territorial claim.