BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 5, 2021– The Government of Belize and the Joint Unions Negotiation Team have resumed negotiations after almost a month of bucking heads.
During that time the budget for this fiscal year, 2021/2022 was passed, effectively finalizing the 10% salary cuts, and the Joint Unions, starting with the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), have since engaged in all-out strike action against the Briceño administration.
While recommencement of negotiations may prompt a sigh of relief for some, union leaders remained cautious and on defense as they entered the negotiation room on Tuesday at the House of Culture.
The meeting, which started in the early afternoon, went on for about 6 hours, up until 7:00 p.m. A lot was on the table to be discussed, including a list of 11 demands published by the Joint Unions before the meeting.
BNTU president Elena Smith told the media, “We have said before, the ball is in the court of the government; it is up to them. We have met with them, we have not gotten to an agreeable position; we have taken industrial action. PSU is out today, and we will continue with those actions. It is left to them, you know. Whatever they decided to do today, or if it is that we will have to have more than one meeting to finalize these discussions, then fine, we will do that, but it is up to them.”
The president of the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM), Sharon Fraser, has also commented that the government has a clear understanding of what the unions are demanding, since their position has not changed.
“We have been consistent, and from the very start of these talks, whether you want to refer to it as consultations [of] the Government, we always thought it was a negotiation, but we have been consistent; we have not changed our position; it has been the same thing from day one. When they met with us separately, and when they met with us jointly.” Fraser said.
While there is still debate about the nature of the previous talks between GOB and the unions— whether they were consultations or negotiations, Gerald Henry, president of the PSU, has remarked that the new bout of discussions have felt like a negotiation, as opposed to the government’s side simply carrying out a rubber-stamp consultation because it was obliged to do so.
During an interview with local media he said, “We are hoping that we could have some meaningful discussion going forward, with the hope that it will continue to be a negotiation, or that it will be a full-fledged negotiation. Because we want to try to end this impasse as well, as quickly as possible.”
Henry could not share any details about what was discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, since the talks are still ongoing. The Joint Unions have gone to their membership with the details of what was discussed in the first meeting and will return to the negotiation table with their response on Thursday at 10 a.m. to present their position.