Highlights — 22 February 2013 — by Miriam Longsworth
Union presidents continue salary negotiations

Union presidents have said that they have completed their countrywide membership consultation and are preparing their counterproposal on the salary adjustment negotiations to present to the Prime Minister within the next two weeks.

Belize National Teacher’s Union president Luke Palacio made it clear that the unions did not accept the government’s proposal as the final decision, but accepted it to serve as more of a basis for discussion among membership.

“It is not a done deal, it was never a yes or no,” he said. “What we had said to the Prime Minister is that we accept the proposal. Our Councils of Management saw some merit in the proposal and that we would be taking that back to our membership for them to give us their recommendation and their suggestion, and then we will come back with an answer,” he went on to say.

Palacio said that they don’t really have answers from the membership, but they have recommendations.

“As we went around the country we did our consultation; they have given us some recommendations, some suggestions,” he said. “All of those things will be compiled and form part of the counterproposal.”

Public Service Union president Marvin Blades took the opportunity to dispel rumors about the meetings not having a good attendance. The meetings did not have full attendance of membership, but Blades said that was due to the time the meetings were held.

“As a joint union we wanted to have all three unions present and it was to accommodate not only PSU but the teachers and APSSM; it started 5:30 in the evening,” he said. “We believe that one of the reasons was because of the time. But if you would look at the meeting for Dangriga and PG and all the other districts, to tell you the truth, the meetings were full. So I don’t know where that notion came from that there were poor showing in the other districts,” he commented.

Blades did admit that the attendance in Orange Walk, as was the case in Belize City, was not what they had anticipated, but he said that many of the members in Orange Walk reside in the rural communities. Blades said if they were to call for another meeting, they would request time off for all members to attend.

“It had nothing to do with the rejection or acceptance of the proposal; it was simply because of the timeframe and we wanted to accommodate everybody because we are a joint union,” Blades said.

Blades said that the consultations were not to get a vote of approval or disapproval from membership but to garner suggestions on how to strengthen the proposal given by the government.

“Now at the executive meetings it was not that the executives agreed with the proposals totally, they agreed to some parts of the proposals and to share it with membership,” he said. He further noted, “Executive gave us the green light to take it to membership and membership has given us some areas of strengthening this proposal for our counterproposal. And so that’s what we will present then to the Prime Minister. And as you know negotiations, you go back and forth until you find an area of agreement.”

Association of Public Service Senior Managers outgoing president George Myvette said that they are hoping that a settlement in the negotiations can be made soon and that the negotiations would not go on for another year.

“We are hopeful that we [are] able to dot the I’s and cross the T’s and let the chips fall where they may in terms of the consultation process,” he said. “We have been getting very, very useful recommendations from our constituents. What we have come away with is really a synthesis of recommendations. We are hopeful that it will be of such a nature that the negotiations can continue. “

One of those recommendations from membership is that the proposal would provide a minimum for the salary adjustment. The “ceiling” of that proposal is the 30 percent increase for three years that the unions have initially requested.

“That has been one of the suggestions that there has to be some sort of guarantee, even if it’s based on the performance of the economy,” Myvette said. “The essential part of it is that we have to walk away with something. So there’s need to set ‘a floor,’ which means that even in a worst case scenario people would be walking away with something from the table,” he explained.

The unions’ presidents clarified for the media that the adjustment is not dependent upon a surplus, but the outturn of the revenue — that is, out of the money that the government collects.

“The revenue that government gets over the revenue from last year, compared to the revenue that it gets this year and then we would get a percentage of that to give us our adjustment,” Palacio said. “The big issue here obviously is what the quantum would be.”

The matter of the quantum is what the counterproposal is hoped to determine as negotiations continue. It is understood by what the government has said that a salary adjustment can only be given if there is a revenue surplus. The unions’ membership want a minimum adjustment to be set in place without a surplus. The move for the union in the case of the government not agreeing to a minimum has not been decided as yet.

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