The University of Belize spends a huge amount of money in salaries and wages, as much as one point three million dollars every month. That staggering figure eats up seventy-five percent of its income. Government has effected a three-million-dollar cut in subvention leaving U.B. is a severe cash flow crisis. As the university navigates the financial crunch, it is also facing issues with the Union which is not formally certified, but wants represents its members around the table. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The University of Belize, the country’s only national tertiary institution, is in dire financial straits. Complicating an already grim fiscal situation is the tense and somewhat hostile situation that is brewing between UB president, Professor Emeritus Dr. Clement Sankat and the UB Faculty and Staff Union. This has to do with an imminent pay cut for persons employed by the institution.
Dr. Clement Sankat, President, University of Belize
“The budget of the University of Belize comprises essentially of two parts, what we call PE or personal emoluments, or the PE/HR budget and the non-PE budget. We have said and we are proposing, it’s gonna go to the board, it has not gone there yet. We will cut our non-PE budget, as I said before, by twenty-five percent, but the PE budget is the largest share of the university’s expenditure. It is the lion’s share. Seventy-five percent of our cash goes out to pay wages salaries, gratuities, pensions, social security, health. In fact, the university pays every month one point three million dollars in terms of wages and salaries to our employees.”
The U.B.F.S.U. maintains that it is the sole bargaining agent for the faculty and staff as far as negotiating pending salary reductions; however, the union is not recognized by the board of trustees because it is yet to be certified by the Labour Department.
Harrison Pilgrim, Chairman, UB Board of Trustees
“You have mentioned that the union wants the university to recognize it and I am sure that, as you are aware and the wider public is aware, that there is a process for unions to be recognized as the main negotiator for a particular group of employees at a workplace and that is something that is done through the Ministry of Labour. The university doesn’t appoint unions. The university doesn’t recognize unions as initially. The unions apply to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Labour determines whether they have the mandate necessary to represent the workers at a particular workplace and they are certified to do so.”
In this case, however, the U.B.F.S.U. has not been certified. Earlier this year, a ceremony was scheduled during which those formalities were to have taken place. It was later postponed, reportedly with no reason given. The U.B.F.S.U. states that President Sankat has also failed to consult them regarding the issue and that any information brought forward to the board is not representative of the inputs of its membership regarding financial exigency.
Dr. Clement Sankat
“I got advice on this matter and you have to recognize that the university was created in 2000 and you have a staff handbook that was dated it think it was in 2004. The particular process that my colleagues speak about is one that has never been activated at the University of Belize as far as I am told. In fact, when it was brought to my attention I didn’t even know about this thing called financial exigency and so I had to consult. What has happened is that both the offices and the officers that are referred to in that handbook don’t exist per se. There are things in that handbook that speak about offices like provost and directors and financial administrators and things like that that simply don’t exist but there are similar bodies today that still exist and those are the bodies that I have consulted.”
Aside from the twenty-five percent reduction in subvention provided by the Ministry of Education, an amount which comes up to roughly three million dollars, UB has also cutting an additional seven point one million dollars in expenses internally.
Dr. Clement Sankat
“Where the seven point one six million comes from is that we are anticipating, as universities in the region and globally are projecting, that with this pandemic and the loss of income from students, from parents and guardians and sponsors—those who give scholarships—that we will see a twenty-five percent reduction in our student numbers. And if and when that happens, that alone will result in a three point five-million loss of income to the University of Belize. And let me say to you Marleni, that is probably the scariest of things that we are facing. We got wind in May, a communication from the Ministry of Education, coming out of the Financial Secretary Office, that the subventions of state subsidized organizations were going to be reduced. And let me say from what I understood, significantly reduced. The university and its administration immediately spun into action. We may have had a sense that this could be coming, but like many thing else in this COVID pandemic, you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”