BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 28, 2021– Today, the House of Representatives passed the motion to cut the salaries of government-paid workers by 10 %. The unions were outside the National Assembly in full force, even engaging in a confrontation with the police at one point in the early morning. The Belize Constitution Public Service Emoluments and Allowances Reduction Regulations 2021, referred to by Prime Minister Briceño as the “Barrow wage cut,” will finalize the budgeted salary cuts imposed by the government of Belize to reduce its wage outlay, and thus overall spending, by 80 million dollars this year. This motion will now go to the Senate after its three readings in the lower house.
The PM stated during his address to the House, “To save Belize and to rebalance the fiscal deficit, we must reduce the public sector wage bill, among several other options that we must take. Unfortunately, we must implement the Barrow wage cut and reduce the salary of those in the public service and all those that are paid by the Government of Belize, either directly or indirectly. ”
He noted that for years the government of Belize maintained and added to an unsustainable wage bill. Former Prime Minister Dean Barrow admitted that it would have to be addressed at some point, but refused to cut salaries, opting instead to borrow close to 1 million dollars daily to pay salaries, pensions and expenses for goods and services.
Those who stand to be affected by the cuts have been engaged in all-out industrial action for five weeks and were engaged in a constant back-and-forth negotiation with the government before the Prime Minister sent his “last” offer recently.
“As a government, we tried our utmost best to engage the unions who represent the public service to try to work out an amicable agreement to reduce the wage bill and to, at the same time, provide ameliorative measures for the public service. We provided them with a written undertaking of several steps of measures of good governance which we will still intend to implement, despite the union’s objection of our offer and despite their continuing industrial action,” the Prime Minister said in his address to the House.
The cuts will affect those who fall under the supervision of the Public Service Commission, the Security Services Commission and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. Teachers in both government and granted-aided schools will also be subject to a salary cut. The new Governor General, H. E. Lady Froyla Tzalam, will sign the regulation to enact the 10% pay cut and 25% reduction of entertainment allowance for public officers as one of her first acts in office.
In response to the presentation of the motion, Opposition leader, Patrick Faber, told the other House members present at the sitting that while the Government economic recovery plan, which is inclusive of the pay cuts, is good in theory, the Prime Minister and his party lack the political will to carry it out. He remarked, “You can’t tell the people, take 10%; you can’t tell the people take an increment freeze for the next three years and that this will save us 80 million dollars and in addition to that we will go and renegotiate the debt and we will cut the expenditure and we will raise the revenue collection. That’s your economic recovery plan, but the truth of the matter is why the first one will not work, and why the teachers are saying to you go fly a kite, is because, Mr. Prime Minister, you have demonstrated at every opportunity that you get that you are not serious about the other aspects of the economic recovery plan. “
“Today, right now, we are making the tough decision in cutting these salary, [but] we believe in the next two or three years we will be on a part to sustainability,” the Prime Minister said.
He added, “We are still reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the unions. I know a few of them were out here today demonstrating, as is their right, and we respect that…. Despite the fact, that some of them may be a little unreasonable, we still respect them, if they believe it is in their right if they want to go and demonstrate.”
While the government is reaching the end of the road with the finalization of the salary cuts, the unions are still fully engaged in protests against it. Recently, the BNTU’s national president, Elena Smith, told the public that they gave a response to the government, following the most recent GOB offers. She says the ball is now in their court.