Photo: Dean Flowers, President, Public Service Union
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 8, 2023
After almost four months, the three unions which represent public sector workers (Joint Unions Negotiating Team, JUNT) and representatives of Government met today to continue their discussions on several issues which remain on the table. At their last meeting on July 14, the issues discussed were pension reform, tax reform, price gouging, and revenue enhancement and cost- saving measures. Well, in a letter from the Unions to the Government dated August 17, another matter was added: that of a comprehensive review of salaries within the public service. Public Service Union (PSU) president Dean Flowers has described what has developed as the “balkanization” of salaries. He was talking about the changes which were implemented recently in relation to judicial and legal service officers and public prosecutors. The unions believe that anomalies exist regarding pay scales across the public service, and so they say there must be an adjustment to streamline salaries.
The message which Flowers says they took to the Government reps today was that this comprehensive salary review to ensure more equitable compensation in the public service must happen alongside the implementation of pension reform. According to Flowers, the Government officials conceded that there is indeed a need for such a review.
Flowers believes that the manner in which changes have been occurring is a piecemeal approach, which they (the Joint Unions) do not support. He reported that, based on information received, magistrates are also now requesting adjustments to their remuneration, and he says that there would be nothing to prevent other government professionals such as the engineers and Foreign Service officers from making separate requests as well. As such, Flowers says to public officers who are affixed to specific groups, “Look, let’s not take that approach. Let’s not be selfish. As a society we are already selfish. Let’s try to do this thing holistically … rather than creating this division that currently exists, with one group believing that they’re worth more than others.” Flowers is hopeful that this would be the first order of the day going forward.
It was agreed that, as was the case with pension reform, a sub-committee will be established to address the salary review and then make recommendations to the JUNT and the Government side. Changes in representation for the committee that deals with cost savings and revenue enhancements have taken place, and terms of reference are being finalized. Flowers says that once that happens, they will make it widely available for the public to see that in fact, “we [the Joint Unions] are putting in place mechanisms to be able to assist with the recovery of the economy as well as curtail the expenditure of government.”
As it relates to price gouging, there is an update to report. The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Hon. Jose Mai, had reported several weeks ago that multiple tickets had been issued to stores that were found to be engaging in price gouging. Today, Flowers said the Government representatives reported that from August to now, a substantial number of tickets were issued as a pilot by public officers who work within the Price Control Unit, the bulk of which were issued in the Southside of Belize City, including in Lake Independence. Going forward, the PSU was asked to submit names of public officers across the country to engage in a training exercise so they can assist the Price Control Unit and start issuing tickets. Flowers says they will recommend 55 public officers in the first instance, with the majority being in the Belize and Cayo districts.
Overall, Flowers described the meeting as cordial, and believes that progress was made. Asked about whether a date was set for the next meeting of the two sides, Flowers relayed, “I think we have something very important coming up in December – which I cannot at this point disclose. But I’m really hoping that we’ll have either a very merry Christmas because of what’s coming, or a jolly new year.”