Education — 27 March 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Unions and GOB at loggerheads over $18 mil salary adjustment

11,000 workers ask for at least 5% raise in the new budget

Roughly 11,000 teachers and public servants, including police and military officers, are pressing the Barrow administration to agree to a 5% salary adjustment, as a minimum, starting in 2013, with subsequent salary raises in the years ahead, which, they maintain, is necessary to offset escalating cost of living.

“They are saying that the inflation rate is not waiting until 2014…” said Marvin Blades, president of the Public Service Union.

What if government maintains that it can’t afford the salary increase, we asked. “That’s one of the reasons why we are in negotiations,” he replied. “We can show you [GOB] why you can afford the salary adjustment.”

The Auditor General’s report points to $400-plus million in arrears due, $108 million for lands alone, he added.

“That’s the salary adjustment plus everything else you can think of,” said Blades.

Luke Palacio, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), said that Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow had told them that he will not accept the proposal for a 5% raise for 2013, since they had agreed on possible adjustments no sooner than 2014.

Palacio said that contrary to indications from the Prime Minister, “Our records show that at no point any indication was made to the Prime Minister that we agreed to anything that he had in his proposals.” He points to minutes recorded by the Ministry of Public Service.

The NTUCB wants a chance to formally put its proposals on the table, and their next meeting with the Prime Minister is slated for Friday, April 5.

The new budget, which is expected to be approved by the Senate Wednesday and passed into law soon after, will take effect April 1.

Palacio said that usually when there is a salary adjustment after the start of the budget year, it is always retroactive.

“There can be supplementary budgets that can account for adjustments that would be made,” he added.

“The unions have looked at worst and best case scenarios, and we have a plan of action to look at those to see what will be the next step if we are not making headway on April the 5th,” Blades said.

Palacio said that the union reps had made it clear from the outset that they would have to take GOB’s proposals to their membership, and members have mandated that there should be a floor of 5% for this year’s salary increase. Another mandate from members is to negotiate for a commitment from the government, that the only reason to go back on the agreement would be force majeure, an act of nature, which would require unexpected expenditure by the government.

Last week, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) wrote Prime Minister Barrow, calling for spending restraint. It said, furthermore, that the wage bill is too high, taking up 56% of the budget, and the wage bill, the Chamber said, should be frozen. It also recommends that the pension age should increase from 60 to 65.

NTUCB president, Dylan Reneau said he disagrees with the Chamber.

“We don’t have a cap on profits, so I don’t see why they want to put a cap on our wages,” Reneau commented. “That is disposable income that people use to procure goods, so they would be snubbing themselves,” he went on to say.

On the proposal to increase the pension age, Reneau also rejected that notion. He said that looking at the life expectancy and the figures that are shown in the budget, “the government can continue to afford the pension, and so we don’t see a change in the retirement age any time soon.”

George Myvette, representative of the Association of Public Service Senior Managers, said, “Inflation has not gone away. We are actually playing catch-up. What we are negotiating for is the 10 years leading up to 2008. We are now at 2013, and so for us, we are not going to go away.”

“The people are ready to go to the next level but we have been negotiating in good faith,” he said.

Whereas the Chamber has quoted the wage bill at $483.2 million, Myvette said that the bill for “the rank and file” which the unions represent is $294 million.

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