BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 6, 2021– The meeting scheduled between the Joint Unions Negotiation Team and a team of three Government of Belize officials ended much sooner than anticipated today.
This was the second bout of negotiation meetings scheduled, and according to union leaders, the Government did make some new proposals. The union leaders will now take those new offers to their respective memberships to determine their collective position, which they will take back to the negotiation table.
In a joint interview with the media this afternoon, 1st vice president of the PSU, Dean Flowers, said that talks almost broke down this morning after the issue of victimization of public servants was raised. He said that they got a commitment from the team of Ministers that this practice would end forthwith.
Flowers remarked, “I want to speak clearly on the matter of penalization and victimization in the Public Service, and I want to be absolutely clear: what has been occurring and what has been facilitated by public officers, including public service union members, is shameful and must be condemned. “
He went on to say that those public officers’ right to protest is being infringed upon by CEOs and managers inside the various Ministries.
“Every public officer, whether in this union or not, has the right to be out here supporting our industrial action and our national strike. Those supervisors, those CEOs, I’m hearing of some floor managers. Shame on you! Some of you are the worst thing that has happened to this public service,” Flowers remarked.
He is calling all those union members who have received a letter or transfer to bring them to the union so that these can be revisited and, if necessary, challenged.
President of the PSU, Gerald Henry, stated that none of the remaining 9 points on their list of eleven demands were discussed during today’s meeting. He did note that they will meet again next Thursday to continue the negotiations.
Henry commented that the Government of Belize may be under great pressure at this time given the current impasse with the unions and the hardline position being taken by the Superbond holders.
“I would imagine that the pressure has to be great on them for them to seem to be sticking to the 10% cut at this time. That’s the reason why the discussion has been very difficult, and we’ve not been able to move as fast as we would have liked. So the pressure is on them, I believe, but we are still hopeful that we will break through and get a reduction, at least, in the 10%, but we have to wait and see,” Henry explained.
Flowers, however, feels that the Constitutional provision, section 106(3), which allows the Minister of Labour to fix salaries, is draconian and must be challenged in the courts. He said that they have since served a legal notice to the Ministry that they do intend to initiate such a challenge.
“The very manner in which our Constitution is written fosters dictatorship and slavery. When a Minister can issue a decree that he will cut salaries without any ground rules, that is a breach of fundamental rights. Section 106(3) must be challenged, and that is a matter that the unions must seek redress on. There must be some things that trigger the Minister’s ability to wake up one morning and decide he want to adjust salaries. We are not saying that he cannot do it, we are saying that he is [currently] doing it by a matter of decree,” Flowers said.
The president of the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM), Sharon Fraser, mentioned that while the Ministry is empowered under the Constitution to adjust salaries, it is unfortunate that they (the unions) were not informed that this was the government’s intention from the start.
When asked about their reaction to Prime Minister Briceño’s absence from the negotiations, they stated that despite their multiple requests to meet with him, the Prime Minister has not even replied to the unions. As to the reason behind his non-participation in the process, Henry said that the Prime Minister would need to answer that question himself.
Fraser concurred that Hon. Briceño would have to answer that question himself, but she also remarked that he can’t be too busy to address an issue of this magnitude.
“He shouldn’t be too busy. This is a national issue. This is about every Belizean here, so too busy? Too busy? No, man, can’t be, can’t be, right, and, maybe it is, if he is, he is to get unbusy and then pay attention to what is happening,” Fraser said.
When asked about the Prime Minister’s trip outside the country, she added, “To me, it speaks volumes, because in a time like this, when there are national issues, what greater national issue this could be than anything? That you are going to take leave, you have not shown yourself, you have not come to the table? I don’t know, like Brother Henry, I cannot speak for him. I just know that I don’t need to put any classification on his absence. The people of Belize can make that assumption, that deduction, for themselves.”