The Joint Unions Negotiating Team and the Government of Belize met today for day-two of discussions inside the House of Culture in Belize City. It was expected that the meeting would run into the evening because nine of the eleven points put forward by the unions were yet to be discussed. But today, those points were not even raised and the meeting came to an end by two p.m. So what transpired? New Five’s Paul Lopez was with the unions throughout the day and he files the following report.
Paul Lopez, Reporting
At around nine-fifty this morning, President of the Public Service Union Gerald Henry and first Vice President Dean Flowers made their way onto the compound of the House of Culture in Belize City. A few minutes later, both Flowers and Henry would exit the compound on foot to greet union members who were picketing at the gate. That is where we had our first conversation with President Henry about the expectations for today’s meeting.
“There are grumbling that a resolution is being reached at, or you are approaching reaching a resolution. Is that the case?”
Gerald Henry, President, P.S.U.
“I would not be that optimistic, although I told you the last time that my blood type is B positive. But you now, we are still hopeful that they can be some medium ground that will be met. We just must wait and see how it will go. Today we will be sharing what our responses are from both consultations that the two sides have been having and we will go from there.”
“How long do you expect today’s meeting to last?”
“Really and truly, to be realistic I honestly think that we will be going late again. Honestly, we only managed to reach to two points. But we will see you know, we will see. Hopefully, we could accomplish something solid today.”
“So, you are trying to cover all eleven points in these meetings.”
“Yeah so, we have nine left.”
But those remaining nine points were not discussed today. In fact, by twelve thirty midday the press was being informed that union reps were preparing to walk out the meeting and that an impromptu press conference would be held on Yarbrough green. But it was not until two p.m., two hours later, that those union leaders arrived. After a brief meeting with those members that were present, we learnt of what transpired inside the meeting.
Dean Flowers, 1
Vice President, P.S.U.
“We have served the public service notice that we will take legal action where our people are being victimized. And, because of the victimization that is happening with termination and transfers, the talks this morning almost broke down and that is why we did not get far. And I want to be clear on that. The talks this morning almost broke down, because of the nonsense that was on tv last night whereby people were being threatened. I am pleased to report that under the good leadership of the three ministers there today we were able to get their commitment that the victimization stops, and it stops now…”
Sharon Frazer, President, A.P.S.S.M.
“I want to speak to the fact that at no point in time was there ever an offer on the table, a proposal, that in fact nurses, frontline workers, were to be exempted, that never came to us. So for that statement to have been made by the minister of health and wellness, only God knows where he got it from, because we could not have rejected anything that never came to us. I know I asked that question today to the ministerial team, please tell me If I fell asleep in one of our meetings when you made that offer. And they confirmed to me that offer never came to the table.”
Luke Martinez, President, N.T.U.C.B.
“Members of parliament, these ministers, the minister of health and wellness should have never ever said something like that. His words are destroying or causing to destroy something as wonderful as the labor movement in this country. He does not have a clue obviously of the discussions happening within the confines of the House of Culture between the Union and budget team from the government side. What he needs to do is too come back to the press, to you all, and make a public apology to the press, to you all. The nurse’s association is a new member, a new affiliate to the National Trade Union Congress. So, when you say something like that, right away you cause this new organization, this new member to want to start to double think about their decision to join us.”
While things got heated during today’s meetings over reports of victimization, and alleged erroneous public statements from parliamentarians, today’s meeting ended with the Joint Unions sticking to their guns where the 10% salary cut is concerned.
Senator Elena Smith, National President, B.N.T.U.
“For now what we did today was to insist on our membership’s position that they are not in agreement with the salary cut. That was clearly put to the table. They are aware of that. We ended the meeting at that point. They are going back to have their discussions and we will see.”
“Government made some new proposal. Of course, it is kind of hard to speak to that because we need to speak to our members before in fact, we can share that. But there are new proposals on the table. But until it is our members say, yes, yay or nay it will not be fair to speak to that without getting to them first.”
PM on Union Negotiations: Government Must Continue to Function
Prime Minster John Briceño also spoke out today, courtesy of the Government Press Office, on the ongoing negotiations between the unions and G.O.B. representatives. PM Briceño, who is not in the negotiation room with the unions, says he does get updates on what transpires in those meetings. He expressed disappointment with what he deems to be “wavering commitments” from the unions. He also spoke about the government’s responsibility to ensure that the country continues to function during strike actions.
Prime Minister John Briceño
“What I find quite pleasing is that the meetings are quite cordial, they are very respectful. Everybody they are putting out their different perspectives as to what it is they wish. Our disappointment is that when we finish the meetings we feel we have an agreement, but whenever they go to the membership, or at least the groups that participates in the meeting, are probably the want that are more worked up and not wanting to settle for what they have been asking and we have been giving to. So that part is disappointing. But as I’ve said, we do respect the unions; we do support their right to work. But at the same time as the government we have a responsibility to the rest of the nation to ensure that the country continues to work, that the schools are working, that here can be teachers teaching our children, that the hospitals are working, that there are doctors and nurses available. These are services that are critical to the development of the country any country. We have not only a legal but a moral responsibility to ensure we continue to offer these services to the Belizean people.”
“What are your thoughts on the days ahead as the strike continues, and the impact to the economy and the country?”
Prime Minister John Briceño
“Well fortunately, it seems that it is not having a major impact. I believe that generally Belizeans understand what we are doing. Belizeans understand that we are not acting out of malice. Belizeans understand that there is a financial crisis. Belizeans understand that many of them, in fact, thousand of them lost their jobs. Unfortunately, the public service, including the teachers, kept their jobs. They have been getting their salaries. But it has gotten to a point where we just do not have the money. We wish we could be paying them and giving them even more. And helping all of those that do not have a job. But the truth is we do not have the money. For the past two years, Mr. Barrow and the U.D.P. borrowed over seven hundred million dollars to pay salaries, to pay the light bill, electricity and rent. We can’t continue doing that. With this new financial year, with the tightening of our belt, and just spending monies where we really need to spend in education and health. But will all of that, the ten percent cut that we have already done, because the budget has already been passed, we are still short of almost one hundred million dollars to pay salaries. So we are still not collecting enough to be able to pay salaries. And that is what we are trying to tell the Unions, we do not have it and we cannot continue to print money. If we continue to print money, we could have hyper deflation and even a devaluation. We will not allow that to happen. A P.U.P. Government will not allow that to happen. We will do everything to protect the Belizean dollars.”