Photo: Hon. Henry Charles Usher
by Kristen Ku
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 9, 2023
The government has announced that, after extensive negotiations with the Joint Unions and following a review by Cabinet of what was discussed at those meetings, it will be unfreezing the increments due to public workers on the date that had been set by the unions as the deadline for the restoration of those increments: April 1st.
Those increments had been frozen in 2020 by the previous UDP administration after the economic fallout that occurred following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This had been followed by a 10% reduction of public workers’ salaries in July of 2021 by the current PUP administration in an effort to achieve fiscal balance.
And although full salaries were restored for public workers last July (2022), the unfreezing of increments was still a challenge for the unions to get government to agree on.
At the most recent meeting approximately a week ago between the Joint Unions and GoB, they further discussed the scheduled date for the increment restoration, with Government, which had initially proposed to unfreeze the increments in September, suggesting a July restoration instead, while the unions put forth reasons for a restoration on April 1 (the start of the new fiscal year)—and suggested that industrial action might be taken if that did not take place.
Following that meeting, Cabinet met early this week to discuss key agreements that had been made between the unions and GoB’s negotiating team.
On Wednesday of this week, reporters questioned the Minister of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform, Hon. Henry Charles Usher, who informed them, “The Cabinet has agreed to give the public officers the increments or unfreeze the increments starting April first.”
“It has always been our goal to make sure that we unfreeze the increments this upcoming fiscal year. The discussion with the joint union team, it was very informative and instructive in terms of how we can get that done this upcoming fiscal year and certainly the head of the union negotiating team and Deputy Prime Minister, he was the only certainly pushing that we do it as soon as possible, so it was always the case where we want to do it as soon as we could and we’re happy that we were able to do it this upcoming fiscal year,” said Usher.
The Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, was also asked to confirm this Cabinet decision.
“We have agreed that we will give them back their increment, as we said all along that we’re prepared to do so,” he said.
Amandala tried to reach the president of the Public Service Union (PSU), Dean Flowers, for comment, but he was out of the country. However, the PSU’s first vice president, Annisa Gonzalez, told us, “The PSU does see it as a small victory; however, we have a lot more to do. We must put plans in place. The restoration of increments is not off the table, and we must work on a proposal to see this through in 2024/2025. Also, pension reform will be introduced for new entrants in July; however, there is no structure or implementation of this introduction as yet. Phase 2 is critical to all public officers. We have requested to reinstate the Cost Savings and Revenue Enhancement Committee. It is important that PSU ensures transparency and accountability to strengthen government finances.”
Gonzalez added that although they have taken one step forward, no proposals have been presented to the PSU as yet.
“We did advise the government that restoration is not out the door, so it was agreed to come up with a proposal to see how this can happen. As well for pension reform, we will be working from within PSU, as well as doing our presentation on pension reform and its structure,” Gonzalez said.