BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 12, 2021– On Wednesday, the Prime Minister delivered a national address outlining what he describes as his Government’s “last, best effort” in ending the impasse with the Joint Unions.
In his address, the Prime Minister gave a chronology of the events leading to the now record-breaking strike action by the unions.
He outlined that, in consultation with the unions, his government presented four substantial measures that would have to be put into effect to address the economic fallout being suffered by the nation.
They include a reduction of spending on goods and services by 15%, the ongoing debt restructuring that seeks to reduce the country’s outlay for debt servicing, a prioritization system for capital spending and revenue enhancement, and lastly, the salary adjustment of 60 million dollars and increment freeze of 20 million dollars for up to three fiscal years.
The unions rejected the salary cuts and increment freeze as soon as proposals for such cuts/freezes were first put forth. The Prime Minister’s address outlined, however, that after “requisite consultations were duly had,” the Minister of Public Service, Hon. Henry Usher, went forward and advised the Governor General to fix the salaries of government employees.
The unions did not agree that the consultations were carried out in good faith, and they engaged in all-out industrial action, as they had indicated they would. Despite the risk of Covid-19, members of the union participated in a national solidarity march and rally last week in Belize City.
They have been calling on the government to implement good governance legislation and implement other revenue-enhancement measures before considering cuts to salaries. They have also asked that the Government put in place palliative measures that would reduce the effect of the now legislated salary cuts on the ability of public workers to meet their daily expenses.
On Wednesday, one day prior to a meeting between the Joint Unions and GoB officials that is scheduled for Thursday, May 13, 2021, Prime Minister Briceño outlined in a public address what specifically is included in the Government’s offer to the unions.
First he referred to the good governance legislations that he claims his administration is currently preparing. Briceno committed to having the draft Protected Disclosure/Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2021 tabled in the House of Representative by the end of June. The Joint Unions and business community are currently reviewing the legislation and are expected to make comments by May 18. He also indicated that this legislation will be enacted by the end of July this year.
The draft Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill has also already been given to the unions and business community for review and comments. The government is expecting to table this bill by the end of July.
Prime Minister Briceño also announced that, in response to the prodding of the unions and the business community, the Attorney General’s Ministry is currently reviewing and developing a draft Campaign Finance Reform Bill, which should be ready by August 2021.
Additionally, during his address, Briceño also committed to having a comprehensive audit conducted of the manner in which Petrocaribe funds were spent.
These bills and timelines have already been presented to the Joint Unions and should play an important part in the discussions scheduled to take place during Thursday’s meetings. May 12, 2021 marked the 13th day of strike action by the unions.