Tuesday, January, 29, 2013 - that's the day that teachers have set to lead a mass demonstration in Belmopan which could lead to a national teachers' strike. That's the word coming out of a Belize District Special General Meeting which was held this afternoon at the Holy Redeemer Parrish Hall. The meeting was convened to discuss a demand for a pay raise, which government has rejected. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of a mass demonstration and a sustained strike.
The Belize District Branch President was guarded in her remarks - stressing that is only the position of one branch - and the votes of branches countrywide have to be collated at the National Executive level:
Jules Vasquez "What is the outcome of the Belize District branch?"
Kathleen E.B. Flowers, BNTU Belize District President "We promise we won't be holding interviews. The only thing I can say to you is that our membership is willing to participate in the actions that the BNTU is planning. At this point those actions I cannot say will be real or not because I don't know what the results of the other branches are."
Jules Vasquez "We are told the proposed actions include a strike or a protest on the 29th in which teachers will not be at school."
Kathleen E.B. Flowers, BNTU Belize District President "Alright you have begun an interview which I don't wish to participate in - we will talk about it after the national president has given the national results."
Jules Vasquez "How soon will that be?"
Kathleen E.B. Flowers, BNTU Belize District President "Monday, because by Thursday they should be having a press conference."
Reporter "Salaries for the teacher will be a part of this?"
Kathleen E.B. Flowers, BNTU Belize District President "That's the premise of today's meeting to deal with teachers concerns about salary increase and adjustments but the outcome will come when we all meet together and will be determine at the council table."
The vote for the Belize District was as follows: first, on whether the Belize district branch should participate in a demonstration on January 29th: 511 voted yes, one, no - with some abstentions.
They were also asked to vote on whether they'd be willing to participate if it comes down to a sustained strike: 488 said yes, 13 said no.
So that's where it stands tonight. By Monday all the branches should have voted and the final tally will be known. But, with Belize District, the largest, voting so overwhelmingly in favour of a demonstration and strike - it's a virtual certainty that the other districts will vote along that line - leading certainly to a mass demonstration, and likely to a strike.
We say likely, because Government has been apprised of their position - and has also taken a hardline, that there's simply no money to pay for an increment at this time.
That will make for interesting weeks ahead and we'll keep following it closely.
Faber Says Teachers Should Wait & Consult, Not Strike
Last night we told you that the Teacher Union is planning a mass demonstration in Belmopan on January 29th - and following that, there very well could be a teacher's strike.
That's because at last week's collective bargaining negotiation, Government said flatly that it cannot afford to pay all teachers and public officers a 30% increment over three years. That response has angered the Teachers Union - and is likely to catch on with the other unions involved in the negotiation with government.
Today Education Minister Patrick Faber told us that government simply cannot afford to budge on this negotiating point which would cost the public purse tens of millions of dollars:..
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "I am not understanding that they are moving to a strike at this time. My understanding is that there quiet possibly could be a demonstration to show their disagreement with what it is the government is saying at this time. But a strike is severe and I believe that the teachers will act responsibly as well and that they would not necessarily get to that stage. What they have ask for is time to do their consultation, now how that consultation and getting feedback from the membership especially through the BNTU meetings turn into a strike and possible demonstration is what behooves us. I think people need to be aware that last week we held the most meeting of the collective bargaining negotiation and it was there that the ministerial sub-committee that has been task put to the staff side which is the union side the position that the government is taking which is that we are not able to afford at this time the 30% salary adjustment and I believe that is all this that is happening now in terms of the meetings with the BNTU are as a result of them responding to that position."
"When is it that you say the process has been broken down. We have in excess of 25 proposals that were put forward in this round of negotiations or the process and we agree on some and we don't agree on some, so if it is the position and I am not saying it is but this is question you need to ask them - if it is the position the minute we can't agree on one of these proposals everything goes to the water then in deed we are at an impasse and the process has broken down but I don't get the impression that that is where we are at."
"The financial of the country has presented figures to show and prove in fact that the government is really not at this time in a position to accommodate that request and of course heavily weighing on all of this was the whole super bond issue and I think this is also a reason why the matter is flaring up in the way it is flaring up now because it is believed that because the Prime Minister has announced this kind of ease if you will that will come from the super bond that it is now viewed by people in this country in particular the unions and I believe it is a false view that the government is now in a position to do this and the truth is that the figures has presented by our financial secretary which I will tell you is disputed by the unions will show that there is till going to be a significant hole in the budget that the government needs to fill and that it would be irresponsible of a government; this party or any other party to take on that kind of challenge at this time when we know that we are just trying to fix the situation and make it a little bit better."
"It would be irresponsible of the government at this time. Remember that we have just made the case that the government is not in a position to do several things financially including paying our bond holders. We said out rightly we could not do that and that is the real situation. How would it look now just at the heels of us tying this deal down and making sure that the bond holders understood that we are not in a position to do this for us to now be reckless and irresponsible in terms of saying to them now that we are going to take on this kind of request that the unions are proposing and then possibly land us in further financial problems."
Reporter "Do you perceive the government making a compromise between now and the 29th? If so how will we deal with it because their game is set."
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "You ask the question right "I perceived," I can't tell you. The Minister of Finance is the Prime Minister and I believe the Prime Minister intends to make a presentation on this issue sometime next week."
Jules Vasquez "The other side is saying that they are going to do so and so, children will be out of school, no school will be happening and you all will blink - you will find a way to find the money. Are you prepared to face those severe terms of negotiations?"
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "I think I answer that question already Jules but there is always the possibility that this will be the case, but we are banking on the fact that Belizeans understand fully well the plight that this country is in. teachers are one thing but there are also many parents who are out there. If it is the teachers take this hard line and the people of this nation see it as a different way there is going to be trouble."
Marleni, Reporter "While there is that understanding - the prospective changes when you have your children at home nowhere to send them and nobody to watch them."
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "Right and I am saying Marleni if parents view that the teachers are taking an unfair position then I am hoping that the teachers understanding what it is that they are doing and if the teachers then insist that we will go on strike because we are not getting what this one thing that we asking among 27 other things - although it's not everything that they are getting, let me be clear. We are going to not only demonstrate and send the signal but we would also go on strike and shutdown this nation, well then if the Belizean people are having another view and if it is they still insist on that then I believe yes they would be wrong."
Right now there are no emergency meetings planned between the two sides. The BTNU has not come up with its final position. Yesterday the Belize District took an overwhelming "yes" vote in favor of a protest and, if necessary, a sustained strike.
Teachers countrywide have voted resoundingly to hold a national demonstration in Belmopan on January twenty-ninth. And if that doesn’t get government’s attention, then they are prepared to go on strike. The biggest issue on the table is a salary adjustment of thirty percent requested by teachers due to the high cost of living. Government says that at this time it is in no financial position to give teachers what they want. So as far as that goes, things are at a stalemate. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education are on exactly the same page on the issue. Duane Moody reports on the stand-off between government and teachers.
Duane Moody, Reporting
At a meeting held Thursday by the B.N.T.U. Belize District Branch, five hundred and eleven teachers voted to have a demonstration while one voted no. Almost that same amount voted to go on strike if government doesn’t fold. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education say that it’s not a matter of not wanting to give the teachers what they are asking…they just can’t afford to. And they are that the teachers would even ask at this time.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I really am disappointed and troubled. Lord, we are at a point where you look around you in Jamaica in St. Lucia where governments are being obliged to retrench to raise taxes. We found ourselves in a position where we simply could not sustain the servicing of the superbond after the step up of eight point five percent interest rate, without in fact increasing taxes and slashing spending. As we tried to negotiate or restricting, you know the pressure was put on us by the IDB by the U.S. Treasury to get into a program which would have required firing public officers including teachers; which would have required raising taxes.”
Patrick Faber, Ministry of Education
“We’re saying we want to do this in a way that is homegrown us here that will not cause; we’re asking people to cooperate and to understand that nobody is being fired, nobody is being sent home. I don’t think the Prime Minister is intending to raise taxes—although he will have to say that—but there is no kind of move in this direction. And for that I think that we should be happy in this country that we’re moving in that direction. Because in other countries—countries that are close and dear to us—this is indeed the move; to cut the workforce and to raise taxes and do whatever else is the normal IMF prescription for improving the economy.”
And that is why, said the Prime Minister, this is the worst possible time for the teachers to have taken a hard line, because with other economic issues like the restructuring of the super-bond in play, that position can have major repercussions on the state of the nation.
“For at this juncture, the teachers to be demanding a thirty percent increase, sends completely the wrong signal, compounds the difficulties that we are experiencing in trying to nail down a restricting deal. And in my view, puts the larger national interest of the country in jeopardy. We don’t even have enough money to service the current debt. If we succeed in the restricting and we are pretty confident we will, as I’ve explained, what it does is to close the financing gap considerably so that we won’t have to raise taxes which nobody wants. The only way then we could pay any salary increases would be if we did raise taxes. If we did say we wah ker up the GST to twenty-five percent; if we did say we will put additional taxes on fuel. How can the teachers ask us to do something which will prejudice the vast majority of Belizeans in a fundamental way?”
The Prime Minister reiterated that it is not as if government is ignoring the teachers or has not tried to work with them. He says that it is just not possible to give them what they want at this time, and while he regrets it, that is the reality of government’s fiscal position.
“We’ve worked out a situation where there is a partial agreement—we were negotiating jointly with themselves and the P.S.U. we worked out an agreement where we are doing something by way of allowances. We are doing as much as we can. Every year, every year, public officers and teachers get the salary increment which represents an off the top ten percent increase in the emoluments that we have to pay. It also represents something like a three percent increase in salary. You don’t call it increase in salary, you call it increments—but that’s what it amounts to—and that’s been higher than the rate of inflation. So while we would want to do more, while they perhaps deserve more, the plain fact is that it cannot be afforded in the circumstances and in my view their determination to go on strike or to mount a protest action is in all the circumstances, extremely regrettable.”
Duane Moody for News Five.
Minister Faber also told the media that he is confident that the teachers will not go on strike. According to Faber, the BNTU will not use that sort of action without the support of the umbrella NTUCB. But only time will tell if Faber’s optimism is founded.
Negotiations for a collective bargain agreement have been ongoing since 2008, but teachers are unhappy that they have not been able to move forward on the thirty percent salary adjustment .With that threat looming ahead for the government, Minister Patrick Faber, who is the head of the ministerial negotiation team says that government has been taken by surprise by the impending demonstration because the last ministerial meeting took place on January tenth. Faber also says the increment would amount to thirty million dollars annually.
Patrick Faber, Minister of Education
“The financial secretary of the country has presented figures to show and prove in fact that the government is really not in a position to accommodate that request and of course and heavily weighing on all of this is the whole super bond issues. This is also a matter as to why the matter is flaring up now because the prime minister has announced this kind of ease if you will that will come from the superbond that it is now viewed by people in this country, particularly the unions, I believe it is a false view that the government is now in a position to do this. It would be irresponsible of the government at this time, remember that we have just made the case that the government is not in a position to do several things financially including paying our bondholders. We said out rightly we cannot do that and that is the real situation. How would it look now that just at the heels of us tying this deal down and the bondholders understood that we’re not in a position to do this, for us to now be reckless and irresponsible in terms of saying to them now that we are going to take on this kind of request that the unions are proposing and possibly land us in further financial problems.”
And so while there are savings to be realized in the coming year, Government says it didn't have the money to make the payments in the first place! And that's why the PM made it clear today that from the Government's perspective there's no way this measure of breathing room can be used to try and pay for, or justify a wage increase for teachers and public servants. Here's his explanation:
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "If of course we were to do anything such as immediately add back on to the deficit that we would just have succeeded in narrowing something like the two hundred and odd million dollars over three years that the salary demands would represent, we would have ended up in a decision where the public and the international community will say to us well you just succeeded in the fool's gold feet of digging a hole to fill a hole and in fact of digging a larger hole to fill a smaller hole."
Today the National Trade Union Congress of Belize - the umbrella group for all major unions issued a statement saying that, quote, "the NTUCB expresss its total and unconditional solidarity the Association of Public Service Senior Managers, the Belize National Teachers' Union and the Public Service Union."
It adds that "proposal of a salary increase…is being derailed by the official side's position that this is not a matter to be negotiated at this time….the NTUCB registers its complete denouncement of such a stand by the official/GOB side.."
Today the Prime Minister said that there's nothing to denounce, GOB just can't afford it - unless they increase taxes:..
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "I don't know what there is to denounced - the governments' position was we don't have the money at this time. This is an extraordinary juncture in which to proposed adding over three years two hundred and almost 50 million dollars to the wage bill which already represents in excess of 50% of recurrent revenue and so at this juncture to ask what is being asked putting everything that we are working to secure at risk, jeopardizing the future and obliging if we were to contemplate trying to do this. Its 35% and 30%, its not 30%, its 35% for juniors and 30% for seniors - to oblige us to look at, as one example, raising the GST on the population to an excess of 25% to try to realize the money - to asked us to raise the GST in effect to excess of 25% in order to pay these salary increases strikes me as quite honestly a bridge to far and that is all government has been saying."
Later on in the news, courtesy our friends at PLUS TV - we'll have the comments from BNTU President Dylan Reneau.
NTUCB Explains: Inflation Cutting Into Salaries
In our first segment, you heard the Prime Minister outline Government's financial position and why it can't afford to give teachers and public officers the 30% pay increase they are asking for.
Well, the unions don't want to hear it, and today the NTUCB issued a statement saying that it will, quote "support activities aimed at raising the consciousness of the Belizean populace to this issue." Do those activities include a possible strike? That's what our colleagues at PLUS TV asked President of the NTUCB Dylan Reneau today:..
Reporter "So then this means that the NTUCB will support the BNTU if its goes on sustain this strike?"
Dylan Reneau, President - NTUCB "The NTUBC will support the Belize National Teachers' Union, the Public Service Union, and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers in whatever action they intend to carry out."
Reporter "Is the NTUCB satisfied in the legitimacy of GOB's position that the country simply cannot afford to pay?"
Dylan Reneau, President - NTUCB "It's a matter of negotiation. Being satisfied? Certainly not because the last time we got a salary increase approval was in 2000, and that would have been prior to 2000, although it was implemented the last tranche implemented in 2005. We have had this situation where the middle class has been losing ground, is basically being narrowed. So we realize that it's time to make this stance, because we have been trying to negotiate for the past four years. These unions have been trying to negotiate, and it has come to this impasse. Now we have this Super bond. We have the payments for BTL and BEL in the near future. So when will we ever get satisfaction with our collective bargaining agreement?"
Reporter "Would you prefer a increment rather than a tax increase?"
Dylan Reneau, President - NTUCB "Well that's a very interesting question. I know that Government has been attempting as much as possible to hold down taxation, and we give then kudos for that, but at the end of the day they can;t stop inflation, and that is what is affecting our disposable income. Certainly economists can find ways, and I know we have some very brilliant economists in the Ministry of Finance that can find ways for us to balance this situation."
Reporter "Now you recent position on this whole thing; will you urge other unions to join behind this effort?"
Dylan Reneau, President - NTUCB "As I explained to you the general council is made up of all the unions in Belize and so all of them are already behind this situation. I think government needs to take it very seriously because you know how we can be very disruptive and I think the unions took this position simply because of the intransigent position of government."
The teacher's mass demonstration is set for a week from tomorrow in Belmopan.
Unions Says Prime Minister Coming 'Round To Their Position
Tuesday's planned teacher's demonstration in Belmopan is getting bigger. Today the Association of Public Service Senior Manager and the Public Service Union made it official: their memberships will join in.
We'll have that shortly, but first to the news of the day. The two sides, Government and the Unions are getting close. That's after the Prime Minister sent the Unions a signal yesterday that he is willing to index a pay raise to a surplus in the current account. He said that on WAVE Radio and the Unions today told us that now he is talking their language:
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "Yesterday the Prime Minister said that he would be willing to link the adjustment to the surplus and give us a portion for that surplus. If that is the case we are prepared to work on that basis. If we had been made that offer at our last meeting in January we wouldn't be here where we are today because that time they were simply saying no to everything. That's what we were looking for - for tangible measures where we can link our adjustment because we are talking about next year and not this year. Next year we won't be in a deficit, we will have monies to save and continue to increase our foreign reserves. We are heartened by that position. We are hoping that we can have an amicable solution and have a win-win situation for both of us."
"Going into strike is a lose-lose situation for both of us. We don't want to be in that situation, so we are hoping that we could have a workable solution among government and the unions."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "The Prime Minister had ask that we go to a meeting at this point because of where we are. We are saying that we are prepared to meet with the Prime Minister after the demonstration and if matters can be resolved like brother Castellanos said - if they are prepared now to sit down and listen to our proposals and of course give us something tangible. We don't want a pie in the sky promise. We want something tangible because we have figures."
Reporter "Sir, are you prepared to take a less percentage if the government were to offer a less percentage than the 10% over the 3 year period that you are requesting?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "That is what negotiations are for and like I said they have said out-rightly no, so no, that is not negotiations - I cannot be negotiating with you when you tell me no - this is my position - that is what stands. We are saying we are prepared to sit down, we are prepared to dialogue, we are prepared to negotiate because we have our counter-proposals as well."
Jules Vasquez "How would you answer the criticism that: okay the Prime Minister has extended the olive branch, says he is prepared to negotiate but you all are leveraging the situation by insisting on your having your demonstration next week."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "We are just being as determined as you'd be Jules to get answers from somebody you are questioning. We have our position, we are standing our position, we are saying that we welcome that but the reality is, you cannot be speaking from 2 sides of your mouth; only on Tuesday you said no to the raise."
Reporter "After Tuesday the meeting with the government fails to come to any agreement. When will you go on strike actually?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "I believe we will discuss that and we will cross that bridge when it comes to that time."
BNTU Joined By PSU, APSSM
And so, while they are ready to talk - to make sure the balance of power is properly leveraged, first the unions have to flex. And - as we told you at the top of the story - it won't just be the Teachers. They officially have company. The PSU President indicated his Union's readiness:..
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "Our membership had agreed that we will show our support and we will have people physically there at the demonstration because it's a joint effort. We keep hearing over the media that it's only BNTU, its BNTU, APSSM and PSU - all of us together doing the demonstration, so we will be out there."
Jules Vasquez "Are you all hoping for a semi-shut down of the governments' operation?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "No we are not at that level. What we are saying is that we got in each our branches a couple of our membership will be out because we are not at that level yet and so we just want to show solidarity to our brother, it's a joint effort, so we have to be out there even though we know we have a lot of essential services. We are getting people that are not mostly affected with those essential services because we are not at strike action yet."
And this evening, the Association of Public Service Senior Managers sent out a release announcing that it has approved a resolution to, quote: "JOIN THE ONE DAY PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATION…TO PROTEST GOVERNMENT'S POSITION ON THE SALARY ADJUSTMENT FOR TEACHERS AND PUBLIC OFFICERS."
Castellanos Says GOB Can Afford It
So the APSSM and the PSU are down to demonstrate - while also still ready to negotiate. And those negotiations will be based on numbers - bearing in mind that while working with the same figures, the bottom line for the unions is far different than Government's. Take for example the cost of the increment package. Government says - and you've seen ads about this - that it will cost over three hundred million dollars over three years. But the unions say those three years will cost - at the most - 200 million dollars. And more importantly they say that with sound economic stewardship, government can afford it:..
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "This year we had 7% growth as opposed to what they were saying in December which is 3.5% - that means 35 million dollars more in additional revenue which we it and now will show it to them. In fact this year the economy grew as much as it grew in 4 years."
Jules Vasquez "Remember we still have a financing gap."
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "A financing gap of 34 million dollars. Next year you will get the full brunt of the bond, so you will get 66 million dollars in relief. Every time the economy grows by 1% you have an addition of 10 million dollars in revenue. If we grow another 7% next year, we will have 70 million dollars more in additional revenue plus 66 million dollars' worth of super bond savings, so there will be no deficits - that's why I am saying that we are prepared to link the adjustment to the surplus which PM made last night. Based on those figures and base on what he said yesterday the salary adjustment is possible without the objection which the government has always been saying - that it would employ additional taxes and fees, increases in GST - that will not happen. It will come from the growth in the economy and from the state in the super bond."
Those figures will be the subject of what IS sure to be spirited debate when negotiations resume - presumably after next week's demonstration.
Teachers and Public Servants to march against G.O.B.
There is a steely resolve tonight by the Belize National Teachers Union, the Public Service Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers, known as the Joint Unions Negotiating Team, to stage a national demonstration this Tuesday while Cabinet is meeting in Belmopan. The unions have not yet received the required permit for what is billed as a peaceful demonstration, but security forces are also getting ready for the five thousand teachers that are expected to descend on Independence Hill. After years of not been able to reach agreement on a salary adjustment of thirty percent staggered over a three year period, the unions have decisively voted to take their plight to the seat of government. News Five’s Isani Cayetano spoke today with JNT leaders as they issued their respective bulletins calling on members to come out in solidarity in what is likely to be one of the largest demonstrations in recent times.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The Belize National Teachers Union, arguably the most influential and structured body outside of the country’s major political outfits, is once again preparing to mobilize its membership for an all-out descent on Independence Hill. The last demonstration staged by the union was in February 2010, when approximately two thousand teachers converged at the foot of the Assembly Building to protest the passage of the Education and Training Bill. That was almost three years ago. Since then the leadership of the B.N.T.U., as well as its cause for dispute, has changed. Nonetheless, the fight for a long overdue salary adjustment, part of a Collective Bargaining Agreement, will once again see them on the frontline.
Luke Palacio, President, Belize National Teachers Union
“It is not only the teachers that are negotiating a salary adjustment along with the other proposals that we have, it is the three unions. The Belize National Teachers Union, of course, being the most powerful, the most organized trade union in this country, met in special session and we agreed; our council voted that we are going to conduct a demonstration in Belmopan to show that we are dissatisfied with the disrespect that the government has shown to the three unions over this period time.”
The tripartite decision to picket outside of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting is the result of failed negotiations between the unions and government. Earlier this week Prime Minister Barrow went on record to state that his administration is unable to meet the demands of the unions in the upcoming fiscal year. The picture that has subsequently been painted is that an additional three hundred million dollars would be tacked on to the existing wage bill in one disbursement. That, according to the Joint Unions Negotiating Team, is simply a smokescreen.
Jose Castellanos, President, Association of Public Service Senior Managers
“We don’t agree with that assessment. Firstly, it’s thirty percent that we are asking for over a period of maybe three years. So it would be ten percent, ten percent, ten percent.”
While the initial proposal is to stagger the payment over three years, at roughly a hundred million dollars annually, B.N.T.U. President Luke Palacio argues that the salary adjustment has more to do with the power of the dollar and not necessarily the quantum of the increase.
“The increase is not going to cost any three hundred and odd million dollars as they are saying. The increase is, we are requesting a salary increase of about thirty percent so that we can bring back the purchasing power of our dollar. Our dollar has lost its purchasing power by at least thirty-two percent, which means in common terms that our dollar right now is only worth about sixty-eight cents.”
Economics aside, the pay raise is only part of a twenty-three point list proffered to government, which includes allowances, salaries and other benefits for public officers and teachers. Public officers, says Marvin Blades, are equally feeling the financial hardship.
Marvin Blades, President, Public Service Union
“We’ll definitely have our membership being out there to demonstrate because at the end of the day, and we want to dispel the notion that it’s only B.N.T.U., it’s the entire public sector unions, B.N.T.U., APSSM and P.S.U., because we are all feeling the same pinch. We are all, the dollar has devalued as my brother has said and so the government saying that “no” and an infinite “no, no, no” is unacceptable by any standards to any one of the unions.”
Despite their firm position on the matter and the impasse that it has created, many are wondering whether Tuesday’s demonstration will only be that, a one day show of solidarity that will be forgotten in the days after.
“To the naysayer, a demonstration is simply what it is, a demonstration, and everybody goes back to work the following day. What is to happen if, at some point, the negotiations become fractured, or they’re not favorable to the three unions involved? What do we expect?”
“Well again, we have now engaged our partners. In fact, you notice we are here meeting at the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. Brother Castellanos has indicated to you the support from the Association of Public Service Senior Managers. We have been getting great support from other individuals and depending on the outcome of the demonstration on Tuesday and the meeting with the P.M., which we hope will follow, then we will again engage our affiliates and determine how we move from there.”
Today classrooms across Belize were empty and thousands of school children stayed home because their teachers went to Belmopan to send a message to the Prime Minister: they want a raise and they won't take no for an answer.
7News was there from beginning to end - and Jules Vasquez has this story.
Jules Vasquez reporting
The crowd started out relatively small on the green in front of Belmopan Comprehensive at 9:00 am.
Perhaps there were a few hundred and it looked like the unions might be in for a disappointment:
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "We have to get the masses today and if we get the mass I think the government will understand that we mean serious business."
Jules Vasquez "I am a little let down from teachers, I expect more."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "You know what your people have been doing with us - trying to intimidate our teachers, so no doubt a few of them probably - particularly as far as I understand the government teachers were intimidated. I have no proof of it at this point. What I do know that the ministry through the Chief Education Officer has quoted the education rules not saying that teachers should be in school but to say that the managers must ensure that the school remains open. Therefore we believe that that is sending a mixed signal."
Jules Vasquez "I am slightly disappointed in this crowd."
George Frazer, Negotiator, NNTU "Look here Jules, you talk to me at the end of the day or in another hour then you will see."
But the busses were steadily rolling in - we counted over 30. That's when the spirit started rolling in with old union standards like this one. The crowd started thickening - and the motivation was high:
Jules Vasquez "You feel that the government is responsive to this? You think they are aware of this what you are going through when you shop?"
Corlan Galvez President Belmopan Branch "You have to be blind to not see it Jules because even Josey saw it, so then how come we who can see it cannot see it."
Jules Vasquez "You feel that a 30% raise over 3 years would fix this?"
Corlan Galvez President Belmopan Branch "It will not fix it but it will make it better."
Jose Chan - Corozal "The message is that the same way how they can find "chump change" as onr of the ministers said, they can find money to do salary adjustment for the teachers because we do more than the gang members. Every time the government finds money, sometimes it's mostly for the city and we educators we believe that something must be done also for the districts. We don't say that gang members in the districts must be paid, we say that programs must be set so that the districts benefit also."
And when the roll call started it was clear that we would be seeing a massive crowd.
It was impressive, not hundreds, but thousands, singing, showing their signs and marching wrapping Ring Road in a ribbon of humanity.
And being clear on their message with those issues in mind, Teachers from all corners of the country walked the entire route, from comprehensive School to the National Assembly building - occupying a long stretch of the Ring Road and taking about 15 minutes to pass one area.
We counted about 1750 persons in the march - certainly close to two thousand - and there were others waiting at the stairs of the National Assembly. No doubt form end to end it was impressive - and certainly would seem to send an effective message to the power base.
The spirit was so contagious, even the Belmopan mayor - himself a former teacher - got into it, joining the chorus:
Jules Vasquez "Do you support them in the quest for this increase 30% over 3 years?"
Simeon Lopez, Mayor of Belmopan "I support the idea that there must be negotiations. They should some to the table and let us negotiate. Let's not just give up or just say that it's done, there is nothing we can do about it. There must be some agreement that can be met."
Jules Vasquez "Somebody in the crowd said if you are serious come in here."
Simeon Lopez, Mayor of Belmopan "I will be out there with them. If I wasn't serious I wouldn't have been out here in the first place."
Jules Vasquez "But you can't protest against your own government."
Simeon Lopez, Mayor of Belmopan "I am not protesting against the government. I am supporting the idea that there must come to the table to negotiate."
Coming unto the National Assembly building, the shouts seemed to became more defiant and by the time they mounted Independence Hill in front of the national assembly building they were in full strident shout.
That culminated in a rendition of the National Anthem in front of the National Assembly, and from there they proceeded in their numbers to the stairs of the National Assembly building - where the singing continued.
But the crowd never quite filled up the stairs the way they did the streets. This was probably due to the blazing midday sun. Still, though, a good portion of the crowd came forward for the Rally - which would last over an hour, right through lunch - with speeches from Union leaders - the warmest reception from this teachers' audience reserved for BNTU President Luke Palacio - who got out more than the two thousand he had promised:
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "We know that we surprise some of the nay Sayers. Some of them say that you won't get out those numbers. You have shown them that they are wrong."
"I am more than satisfied Jules. Again like I said when the Belize National Teachers Union mobilizes its members, it's not just the leadership of the union saying this is what we are going to do - we go to our council of management and if we have to have 2-3-4 meetings to work out the details to ensure that we get what we are asking for in terms of the participation and the support from our membership, this is showing what we have done so far."
Jules Vasquez "Now, do you think it was enough to send a message? You know politicians only deal in voters."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Well we know that the politicians deal with voters and these are voters too. We just hope that they will understand that probably some of these same people voted for the government."
Jules Vasquez "You think this strengthens your hand going into the meetings Friday with the Prime Minister?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Again, like I said I don't intend to speculate. I am cautiously optimistic. Our side is preparing all our arguments because that is where we need to go. They have given us their figure. It is their figures that we are interpreting for them, if they show us something different and can convince us that indeed what we are asking for may not be affordable at this time. We do believe that they can give something."
Jules Vasquez "Do you think (to use a biblical reference) that Pharaoh will be moved?"
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "I think so and I am confident about it. I don't see any other option."
Jules Vasquez "Unless you all have to go to plan B."
Jose Castellanos, President APSSM "I don't think so. I don't think it's in the interest of both of us to go that way. I am confident that come Friday - the Prime Minister is a reasonable person, he is a rational person and I think in the end we will get the benefits."
George Frazer, Negotiator, NNTU "Yes we are determined because we know our figures are right. We know our cause is just."
Jules Vasquez "We saw the resolved of the teachers today. You have said that you demonstrate - you showed up in the thousands. Do you think that they will have the same resolve if it comes to the past that sustained industrial has to be taken - a sustain strike?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Yes, I have no doubt that our workers - our teachers in particular are prepared to make that sacrifice as long as we will get what we are looking for."
A few notes: first, there were plenty of police around but no riot squad or paramilitary units anywhere in sight to provoke the crowd. Apart from having to stand in the sun all day, the police got no work from the peaceful, orderly protestors.
Second note is that we neither saw nor detected any political infiltration: the crowd that was out there was comprised almost purely of teachers and public officers - though we did see a few stray politicians, but they were only a handful.
And then there's the numbers - how many people were in the protest? That's always the tricky part. We counted 1750 in the march - and though the teachers will scold us for it, we stick by that number. But there were others waiting at the National Assembly building as well.
And so, counting the busses, which numbered about 40 and modestly estimating 60 persons per bus - that puts the crowd at 2,400. And then add in the unionists from Belmopan City, and the numbers swell, credibly, to the three thousand person range.
Minister Responds to Protest
That's one thousand more than the BNTU President promised yesterday - and to be sure, a mighty impressive crowd - the type usually reserved for political rallies. And so with the numbers in a range that they could relate to, did the political directorate - which was in Cabinet -get the message? One of them who had a unique chance to do so was Education Minister Patrick Faber; his office at the Ministry of Education flanks the National Assembly Stairs. Today, when returning from Cabinet, he walked past the large crowd and had to go around the back to get into his office. We caught him as he was passing and asked him if he was moved by the showing:..
Jules Vasquez "The crowd out here today seems impressive to us but did you as the Minister see it and are you sufficiently impressed that they have the 100% support of the teachers?"
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "Honestly I have not seen the crowd. I have just walked by here and I have not looked over for obvious reasons. I know that somebody might be in the crowd that gets over happy and does something that is not necessarily warranted, I must get to my office and that is the reason I'm passing here. I have to go enter through the backdoor but it's not a problem."
Jules Vasquez "You may not have heard the chants this morning but the chants said that if you can't help you'll have to go."
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "There are a lot of emotions out here today and I am not holding that against anybody and so yes there is a crowd. I am certain and it's a crowd that of course we have to recognized and respect and as I've always said that I do respect the teachers and anybody else who is out here their right to demonstrate and to make clear to the government and to anybody else the point that they are making here today or any other point that they may feel so strongly about."
Jules Vasquez "However I have the sense that the point is not being made effectively in so far as you don't seemed to be suede."
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "I am not the person to be suede. The Government/Cabinet does that collectively of course the Prime Minister more importantly does that as he is the Minister of Finance."
"Do you believe that there could be a compromise rather than simply saying there is no funds - a compromise on the percentages the unions are asking for?"
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "That is something that has to be determined. The Governments' position at this time remains that it does not have the funds. I believe that that may well be the position right through because that is the simple truth - that these monies are not there. If you look at what figures the government presents and of course those figures are challenge by the unions - but if you look at the figures that even the unions present, it still leaves a gap in the national budget of tens of millions of dollars and until we are able to fill that gap then it doesn't matter how much the kind of salary adjustment that is being requested is deserved - how much it is going to alleviate conditions if the hard cold truth is that these monies are not there and I think what the Prime Minister intends to do on Friday in our meeting is to say to people that these monies are simply not there but let's talk about how else we can ameliorate some of these conditions that teachers and public servants experience on a day-to-day basis. The Prime Minister is convince that that is the case and is telling you as the Minister of Finance that there is no way that this kind of salary adjustment; this kind of salary raise is going to happen at this time the money is simply not there. It doesn't matter whatever you do, it's simply not there."
Jules Vasquez "This is inconsequential then?"
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "We have to talk about what else can be done and how else as I said the conditions can be ameliorated."
Jules Vasquez "So then is all this inconsequential?"
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education "Not really, it is important for people to make a stand. I fully respect that, I believe the cabinet fully understand that. I am just out of the Cabinet meeting and they fully understand that statement is being made here that things need to improve. I don't want to be pre-emptive ad to say what will come out of the meeting on Friday but I am sure that what is going to be discussed is how is it we proceed forward given the statements of power that have been shown out here today. We cannot close our eyes to that. What I am saying is that if we don't have the money that's not going to be the direction in which we move."
Faber will be in that meeting with the Prime Minister and the unions which will be held on Friday in the Cabinet Room in Belmopan. The Prime Minister has indicated that he is willing to discuss a salary adjustment that is indexed to a current surplus.
Will Teachers Pay Be Cut
Today you saw thousands of teachers marching on Belmopan. That means they weren't at their work stations - which is the classroom. So will their pay be docked? It's an issue that comes up whenever teachers strike, but rare is the politician who has the daring to take it out of their pay. Today union President Palacio said it's the rule - but he hopes their right to protest will be observed:..
Jules Vasquez "Is there any chance that the ministry or thr managements would be so bold as to make a deduction for a day?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Jules, we've made that known to our teachers, we've said to them that the education rules does say that if the teachers go on any type of industrial action although it specifically speaks to a strike - they may lose salary. We are hoping that that is going to be the operative term "may.""
And doing some housekeeping on Teacher's issues, in fairness we also have to let them respond to the scathing release that the Chamber of Commerce sent out on Friday. As we reported, the Chamber frowned on an across the board wage increase and said it would only favour quote, "properly evaluated increases (for) hardworking public servants." Jules Vasquez unmasked the coded language and asked the unions for their response yesterday:..
Jules Vasquez "However the Chamber would not condone the idea of a general public sector raise increase - that may serve to simultaneously reward unproductive or counter-productive work. Long story short; read between the lines it seems to be suggesting that a large or a section of the public service ia lazy and unproductive and should not be rewarded. That's what this seems to be saying."
Dylan Reneau, President NTUCB "Jules, I want to answer it from two angles; the first thing is that their press release was self-serving. If you don't have an increase in business - business growth and in fact there is GDP growth of 3.5% - 7%. Where is that growth coming from, so they are experiencing a growth. As the President of the PSU also mentioned, our presentation was quite clear. We are not only interested in a salary increase, we want to improve on the productivity and the performance of the public service and many of the proposals from the unions are geared towards that but some of those have not been finalize as yet but the president pointed out clearly some of that that have been finalize and they are going to work on them. My direct answer to that is that we are quite concern the way how the Chamber put out that release. They seem to be self-serving and not looking at the greater good of all."
As for self-serving suggestions, the Chamber's statement says that priority should be on Private Sector job creation and real economic growth.
Things further deteriorate between the Government of Belize and Teachers and Unions.
President of the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) Jose Castellanos has given notice that he will not be attending a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Prime Minister, Dean Barrow after coming under attack from the Government of Belize.
Castellanos was instrumental in clarifying the issues if "inflation" and "increment" to the Belizean people during the ongoing saga over pay increases for teachers. His information has dealt serious blow to government's case therefore GOB has launched a counter attack.
Mr. Castellanos has decided not to attend tomorrow's meeting after party whips have targeted him on the UDP's radio station's morning show.
In a letter served to Castellonos, the GOB is questioning his absences "for union work" and his AUTHORIZED vacation leave in December, 2012.
These recent developments has aggravated the already fragile relationship between the GOB and the unions. Information is that action will be taken in response to what teachers especially feel is an attack on Mr. Castellanos to silence him and by extension, the unions.
A transcript of Mr. Castellanos' delivery which is beleived to be the cause for the assault by government is below.
Mr. Jose Castellanos, Monday January 28, 2013: Jose Castellanos, President, APSSM “With respect to cost of living adjustment, inflation; this is normally accommodated indirectly through collective bargaining agreements. Collective Bargaining Agreements deals with compensating public officers for what is already owed to them. I think this is key; the issue owed to them. There is always a logging process. I pay you in the future for what I owe you in the past. Now in terms of justification and merit; government has been saying that the inflation rates are equal or higher than the increments. First of all, I want to say that I consider the inflation rates as released by government what I title paper inflation. The inflation rate has been two point five percent per annum over the past eight years. Some of those figures are really troubling to us in the labor movements. For instance we have 2009, negative inflation; saying to the Belizean society that prices are going down. 2010, one percent inflation. And that is troubling because we know that reality it is not that and we have the evidence to say that that is not so. In other words if this was true, from 2005 to 2012, the inflation would only have been nineteen percent or twenty percent. But let’s look at the real figures. Take the price of rice; it went up from eighty cents to one-twenty-five for a period of six years. That is sixty-three percent inflation as opposed to what the paper inflation says, seventeen percent. Look at corn; it went from twenty-five cents to fifty-two cents. These are not my figures; these are public information. A hundred and eight percent inflation, not the seventeen percent according to the two point five each year. Beef, the same trend—three dollars to four—that’s thirty-three percent inflation. Again not the two point five percent per annum. Poultry which is one point five-five per pound; that’s what you used to pay for poultry in 2005. Now you have to pay more than two-sixty. Seventy percent inflation. Friends, this has ramifications. This is not only a number, this has ramifications. Proposal is for thirty percent salary adjustment for loss of purchasing power experienced over the last ten years. Now the unions are conscious of government’s financial situation and those are proposing the adjustment be spread over a period of three years. It is important to note that the unions have always maintained flexibility in terms of the rate and the time frame for implementing the salary adjustment.”
Mr. Castellanos works for the Government as the Policy Analyst in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Today was d-day in Belmopan: the labour unions and the Prime Minister convened a pivotal meeting to discuss the pay raise they have demanded. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the Sir Edney Cain building. The union leaders from the PSU, the BNTU, The APSSM and the NTUCB all arrived at the same time. The APSSM contingent notably did not include President Jose Castellanos - who had been the numbers guru for the union side.
But with past president George Myvette acting as their representative, they proceeded to meet the government side. That included ministers Patrick Faber, Charles Gibson and Godwin Hulse as well as Financial Secretary Joe Waight and Economic Ambassador, Mark Espat.
The meeting started promptly at ten and by 12:45 the Prime Minister walked downstairs to personally invite the 13 waiting media personnel from 6 media houses upstairs for a briefing. He gave the unions the floor - and here's what they said:..
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "As you know we have a joint council along with the Prime Minister and we want to express that it was a cordial meeting, a lot of suggestions and concrete proposals were presented. We cannot go into the details of those proposals until we discuss it with our membership. However we must say that we want to thank the Prime Minister for having this cordial meeting and it was a mutual respect on both sides and so we will go back to our people before dispel anything to the media."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Basically tomorrow our council of management will be meeting here at the Convention Hotel in Belmopan where we will then be presenting to our councils the proposals; the discussion and the matters we raised and we have again agreed that we will depending on their response be in touch with the Prime Minister to give him an update."
Jules Vasquez"Sir, you all entered this meeting with a significant problem that came out of the January 10th meeting. Are you all able to say if that problem of not entertaining salary adjustment at this time - if that problem still exist."
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "I wouldn't say that the problem does not exist but basically we have agreed on a way forward with the proposals that have been made, we believe we will be able to at least we know that the doors are still open; we know that the negotiations will continue and again basically like the President of the Public Service Union has said we met in a cordial atmosphere and we believe that for good industrial relations we want to be able to back to our membership and then moved on from there."
Reporter "Can anybody from the unions give us information as to why Mr. Castellanos is not here with you today?"
Luke Palacio, President BNTU "Mr. Castellanos is the best person to answer that question."
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "Like what the two presidents have said, the meeting was extremely cordial and conducted on a basis of complete mutual respect and that was what was most important for me. I needed to signal very clearly to these gentlemen and ladies and to the nation that we view
these union leaders, these social leaders as equal partners with the political leaders with the government in the process of moving this country forward. The substance of the discussions a part - the atmosphere was of utmost importance and I am very happy that we were able to behave throughout the meeting as the responsible leaders of this country that we all are."
And while everyone's body language seemed relaxed, there's no mistaking the less than cordial tone in Palacio's putdown of Castellanos. Like we said, he's the numbers man for the union side, but resigned from the negotiating team yesterday. We have confirmed that a letter from him did reach the Prime Minister today in which- he said he anticipates that he will be victimized and because of that he's withdrawing. Our sources say it may be for a different reasons, but more on that later.
Whatever the case, his resignation would seem to be a major loss, but the meeting appeared to have proceeded amicably without him - culminating in a surreal twist where - at the end of the briefing, the Prime Minister led the entire group: union, government and media in singing "Happy Birthday" for Teachers' Union senior advisor George Frazer. Here's how that odd moment played out:
And, if you can believe it, after that, there was even cake for Birthday George! But that wasn't cut until 4:30 pm when the meeting was finished after six and a half hours. As we understand it, the unions left with a commitment that government would be agreeable to tying any consideration for a pay raise for public officers to a surplus in revenues. The unions now have to take that to their boards of management, their executives and ultimately, their memberships for sanctioning.
That process begins tomorrow when the three executives, the APSSM, BNTU AND PSU meet in Belmopan. Today, though, George Myvette who represented the APSSM told 7news that today's meeting represented quote, "a giant leap forward" and added that quote, "there's a clear path ahead." It's now left to the wider union membership to see if they will adopt that path.
And so, while that's the news of the day, it's worth noting that - with expert finesse - the Prime Minister seemed to have defused a situation that was building to a head.
The only unresolved matter now appears to be the issue of Jose Castellanos - where did he disappear to and why? Well, first off, we tried to call and text him and got no response - which is the same thing that his union brethren told us they experienced yesterday. Second, when we checked at his office at the Ministry of Agriculture this afternoon, he wasn't in - and when we called to his section this morning, we got no answer. Third, in his letter of resignation, he writes about being denied leave, and some suspect administrative maneuvers. He seems to have concluded that he was being penalized for his union activism.
But, alternately, we are also told that he has applied for early retirement with benefits on medical grounds and - we are told - that was granted by a medical board earlier this week. Again, we could not reach him for comment on that. And while that tale hangs, right now, it's on to what's next and that's the government proposal for a surplus based wage increase. By Monday, we hope to know what is the Union's Executives initial reaction to that.
Union Executive Joint Council Agree To Government's Performance-Based Pay Raise Plan
In our last newscast on Friday night, we showed you the Union Leaders and government making "headway" in negotiations. After a six and a half hour meeting, they agreed on a salary adjustment proposal and the union leaders took that to their executives on Saturday. That joint council meeting was held in Belmopan on Saturday - and what a release calls "the overwhelming majority" of the union executives from the BNTU, the PSU and the APSSM voted in favour of the proposal. Today the PSU President Mervin Blades gave us the rundown on what's in the proposal and what's next:
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "Majority of our executive endorses the proposal and so they have us the green light to carry that proposal now to membership. The first meeting being Wednesday in Belize City - as you know as part of the union we have to carry it to membership before we agree with anything because we don't want membership to say that we didn't consult them, so we have to take it although executive represent membership, we still carry it down to grassroots so that they know, they understand the entire thing and then if they give us the green light and say yes, then let us sign and get it going then we can do that. But before that we have to take it to them."
Marion Ali, Reporter "Have you all as presidents or leaders of the various unions received a resignation from Mr. Castellanos? Do you know what the status is on him? Have you been informed?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "We have not. In fact we are hoping to get a meeting before that meeting on Wednesday with Mr. Castellanos to find out because what we know is what you guys reported on the news."
Reporter "Do you know if he resigned from the negotiating team or as president of the APSSM or both?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "That what I am telling you, we have not spoken to him to find out the details."
Reporter "By when do you expect of completing the meetings to inform all your membership in the different branches?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "We are hoping to at least have most of the meetings covered by next week Monday - Tuesday the latest."
Reporter "By then the public should know?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "What's the finalize answer yes from the entire membership of the three unions."
Reporter "Can you go over again what the proposal is from government now?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "When the basic over view of the proposal is that whatever it will go on the revenue out turn of 2012/2013 and then whatever is the difference between 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 that will be what government will be 50/50 to the unions for the salary adjustment."
Jules Vasquez "Assuming there is a surplus?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "Assuming there is more between the two years."
Jules Vasquez "But in the interim you all will continue to get your increments?"
Mervyn Blades, President PSU "The proposal includes financial aid 2014/2015, 2015/2016, 2016/2017 - three years straight and the maximum that any officer can get will be 10% even if the percentage is higher per surplus."
According to the unions, the Salary Adjustment payout would commence in July 2014 retroactive to 1st April 2014.
From here, two working committees from government and the unions will be formed: one to finalize the salary adjustment agreement; the other to verify the numbers and look at revenue collection strengthening and improvement.
As Blades noted, the membership meetings start on Wednesday of this week - and most of the meetings should be finished in a week's time.
PM says salary adjustments for teachers hinge on government revenue surplus
Teachers demonstration, Belmopan
The leadership of the Belize National Teachers Union has begun the process of explaining a proposed agreement for salary adjustments to their general membership. Meetings are scheduled across the country where the Union representatives on the joint negotiating team will divulge the details of the deal agreed on in principle by the unions at a meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Friday of last week. When he appeared on the Love FM Morning Show today, Prime Minister Barrow told the nation that given the fiscal constraints of Central government, the agreement hammered out in last week’s meeting is the best that could have been offered at this time.
Prime Minister Barrow emphasized that in order for the agreed salary adjustment to become a reality next year, both government and the Public Service Union must work together to ensure that there is improvement in the government’s recurrent revenue.
Lead Negotiator Apologizes To Unions For Leaving the Negotiation Process for Salary Increase
He has been out of the limelight since just before the unions met with the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, and his Cabinet two Fridays ago over salary adjustment discussions. But today, the President of the Association of Professional Service Senior Managers, Jose Castellanos, availed himself to the media to explain his abrupt departure from the negotiation process. Castellanos said that his reason to leave the discussions was personal and grounded on health issues, but in hindsight, he added that his early departure was an error in judgment.
“I decided to move out; looking back I think it was an error of judgment on my part. I think I would have stayed until last Friday but I would have left anyway. I leave it to you guys to make the judgment on whether the teachers could have gotten a better deal; I would say that the formula needs to be improved, I think it is one-sided in terms of beautiful formula, fabulous formula – it gives government a safeguard in terms of the maximum – if in case they find oil – all they get is ten percent but if things are bad they get nothing. What needs to happen now is for the unions to say that they need a floor, a safeguard or a minimum. My suggestion to them is to work maybe around three percent. Now, when I look into the future, if the formula remains as it is and you don’t change anything and you don’t find oil, all you will get is between one and one point five percent per annum. So, over a period of five years, all you will get is five percent and I think government knows this because they have run their simulations, they have done their tests. What we were saying before was with the numbers we had on hand, at some point, the Financial Secretary and I would have had to meet and reconcile those figures. I would assume that at the meeting on Friday, the government made a good argument that they didn’t have the funds otherwise the unions would not have agreed to give one year grace period. If I were there I would have asked for the assumptions, I would have asked for the for the floor on this formula, I would have changed the variable from growth in recurrent revenue to actual recurrent revenue and there is a difference between the two.”
We asked Castellanos whether he felt he was victimized or will be victimized for his outspoken participation leading up to the negotiations. While he didn’t want to elaborate, he said that he explained his position to the people he represents.
“I am now going to move on with my life. I am a highly trained, highly qualified and highly respected person; I have not worked only in Belize but in the region as well. With respect to my association, I have explained to them things that I have not explained publicly, that I have done and I have also apologized to them for leaving them at the last hour.”