BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 13, 2021– The Public Service Union (PSU) released a letter dated April 12, 2021 informing its general membership and the wider public of an existing trade dispute between the union and the Government of Belize.
The official notice letter was served to the Minister of Labour, Hon. Oscar Requena, by the bargaining agent for public officers, the PSU.
The release stated that the dispute is a result of the 2021-2022 budget presentation, in which the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, indicated that his government would be proceeding with the proposed 10% reduction of government workers’ salaries, despite the firm and clear objection from the Joint Unions.
The PSU believes that the Briceño administration made a unilateral decision that will have a major impact on the economy.
“In the best interest of the country, at worst, the Government actions should have been geared toward reducing the wage premium currently being paid to Ministers, CEO’s, redundant contract officers, rehired-retired contract officers, and other senior government officials, including the removing of discretionary allowances and immediately addressing public sector reform. The 80 million dollars the Government has decided to wrench from the hands of public officers will only hurt the economy further through adverse effects on the lives and livelihoods of public officers, small businesses, and many more in the informal sector who rely on the spending of public sector workers,” the release outlined.
The release adds that the 80 million dollars the Government hopes to save during this first year of cuts will “only put a band-aid over an open hemorrhaging debt wound and will do nothing to improve the lives of Belizeans.”
The union asserts that the Government cannot show the revenue side of the equation, and how it plans to enhance collection of revenue, especially from those persons and businesses who are known for evading taxes when doing business in Belize.
“At a time when the people need the protection of the Government, the Government is busy cutting ten percent of the lifeblood of the economy, and promoting disunity and hatred via vile and venomous political ads paid for by the state, against union leaders who are defending the mandate of the public sector,” states the release.
Recently, there were some ads on social media that seemingly maligned union leadership for the stance they took in opposition to the proposed salary cuts. The first vice president of the PSU, Dean Flowers, called the ads personal, vile and divisive. He said that the public should be upset that these ads are being produced by the state.
“The people voted for a government for all, but instead they got a government only for the ‘talented,’” the release stated.
While the PSU have acknowledged that they cannot stop the “unilateral salary cuts”, they say that they will continue to resist until their positions are heard and respected. The unions say that they will fight for a better government and stronger institutions.
The PSU release outlined that the union believes that the country needs a government with sharper, more incisive thinking and problem-solving skills to get the country out of the debt crisis, not 80 million dollars from public officers for three years.
The PSU is calling for the expedited enactment of the Whistle-Blowers Act, and the enactment of the Unjust Enrichment legislation, with provisions for asset recovery, as well as a fast-tracking of the UNCAC.
The PSU also demands respect for the protocol that should govern public service recruitment and the selection manual. They are calling for the implementation of the financial regulations and enforcement of accountability and transparency regulations.
They are also calling for the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act so that the public can have greater access to relevant information.
Finally, they are calling for a depoliticization of the Pubic Service Commission and Labour Complaint Tribunal; the removal of the privilege of ministerial discretion that has been conferred on government ministers, and the strengthening of the DPP’s office and Integrity Commission.
“As a startup, the PSU will now commence its work-to-the-rule campaign effective Tuesday, April 13, 2021 until further notice and calls on all public officers to join and support the Union in its fight against economic injustice and for good governance which is non-negotiable and imperative,” stated the PSU release.
The PSU’s work-to-the-rule campaign is the first form of industrial action being taken by the unions. Public officers are asked to carry out only the duties that they are absolutely required to do by law, and in line with their job description — but no more than that. This means that public workers will be taking all breaks and holidays to which they are entitled under the law, and refusing requests for overtime if they so choose. The campaign will run for 21 days.
Dean Flowers, 1st Vice President of the PSU, told local media that the Joint Unions will be implementing other types of industrial action.