Trade unions the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU), Public Service Union (PSU), and Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) continue to press for a salary adjustment beginning in the upcoming financial year despite Government’s reluctance. Today BNTU President Luke Palacio clarified that the unions did not agree formally to Government’s proposal released earlier this year.
Luke Palacio – BNTU President:
There was no agreement. We want to make that absolutely clear. That is the Prime Minister’s proposal. There was no agreement. We never agreed to that. What we’re saying, and we’ve been saying from the beginning, let us sit down, let us negotiate. We have our recommendations that we can make, that we are prepared to make to you. We have the role we’re prepared to play, ensuring that we can get the salary adjustment, but we have not been given that opportunity. You cannot come and say to us, we are negotiating in good faith but this is what I’m giving you and that is what it is. We’re not here to tolerate that. We’re not here to take that.
PSU head Marvin Blades says there was no breakdown in communication with Government and the minutes of the meeting clearly back the Union’s position. As to whether the Government can afford an increase, Blades points to massive waste and uncollected bills that he says can finance a salary adjustment and a whole lot more.
Marvin Blades – PSU President:
If the Government maintains that they can’t afford a salary adjustment now, that’s one of the reasons why we’re in a negotiation, because we can show you where you can afford a salary adjustment.
Just looking at the Auditor General’s report, the amount of arrears was over 400 million dollars, for just lands alone was 108 million. That’s our salary adjustment plus everything else you could think about. There are areas where we believe that we can find, we can look at, we can prove, that you can get the salary adjustment. However the Unions have looked at worse and best case senarios. We have a plan of action to look at those, to see what would be the next step if we’re not making headway on April the fifth.
And responding to the Chamber of Commerce’s view that public wages are currently unsustainable and should be frozen, APSSM president George Myvette says a difference in ideology is the issue.
George Myvette – APSSM President:
Generally speaking, the business community has basically been saying that public expenditure is a bad thing essentially. We’re basically saying that you need service. The Government is there to provide service, to keep the country running. In relation to their concern that there’s too much public expenditure, we’re basically saying that’s a determination for the Government. The Government believes that there’s a need to essentially provide a certain amount of level of service to the community. We are saying from our standpoint that, as far as the salary issue goes, inflation has not gone away. We are actually playing catch up. What we’re negotiating for is the ten years leading up to 2008. We’re now at 2013. So for us it’s not going to go away. We will maintain a course. If we are to take the pulse of our people, from the union’s side, we are basically at fever pitch. Our people are ready to go to the next level.
Myvette believes the relationship between the unions and Government is not adversarial and has in fact been strengthened by the union’s consultations. The groups will meet on April 5 and the unions say they will argue with the counterproposals they have created on the agenda.