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Jan 31, 2005

Unions acknowledge progress, but stick to demands

Story PictureJoining me now in studio is the president of the Public Service Union Dylan Reneau and George Frazer, General Secretary of NTUCB. I know you?ve been through a very long weekend. What is the proposal package in your eyes that you?ve presented to government?

Dylan Reneau, President, PSU
?Well, the proposal package certainly covered all the aspects that we?ve been talking about over the past couple weeks; salary increase, the reforms and issues of taxes. It?s also about the issue of dealing with those who have benefited from the mismanagement and the mistakes and who are to be held accountable. So these proposals basically captured all of those points.?

Janelle Chanona
?Mr. Reneau, this has been day three for the public service officers to be out on strike. Are your members prepared to go to see their demands met??

Dylan Reneau
?Well, today we had a special general meeting at the ST. Mary?s Hall as was reported and after the meeting, I went to the ST. Mary?s Hall and all the members were there waiting for me and expecting good news. But unfortunately, I had to tell them that basically there is no real concrete acceptance of all of our proposals. At that point in time a resolution was passed, which basically states here that the strike action will continue until we get some firm resolution of our issues.?

Janelle Chanona
?Some people have looked at that stance and said that the whole situation has now deteriorated to politics; UDP versus PUP with the unions being on the Opposition side. How do you all respond to that??

George Frazer, General Secretary, NTUCB
?Janelle that?s ludicrous. Anyone who has been following the situation closely and want to be honest can say that our issues have been non-partisan. These are national issues that affect the Belizean people, not only union workers and we know the others out there who have their own agendas and don?t want to give their spin on it. Our issues, our focus is pure. There are non-partisan. There are for the rights of the Belizean people and in particular the Belizean workers. That?s the fact. We know how the games are played out there. For example people are stating that some of the union leaders are meeting with the Leader of the Opposition. We?ve heard calls this morning how Brother Dylan met with the Leader of the Opposition two times. These are all falsehood that?s trying to taint the good name and credibility of Brother Dylan and other union leaders.?

Janelle Chanona
?If there is one primary sticking point of this whole scenario, what would it mean for Belize?s Labour Movement? We have heard that the government have offered on the wage increase. What is the sticking point that you all will absolutely not budge from??

Dylan Reneau
?The sticking points I must add are the reforms and the tax issue. In particular, the tax issue because that is really the one that will affect every single person in this country and the workers and the general public are concerned about that. So in my summation, I would say that it?s definitely the reforms and the tax issues.?

Janelle Chanona
?But we?ve made ground on the issue of reform??

George Frazer
?Yes, I agree with Brother Dylan that the number one issue is reform and the need to fit the system. So that there is not a reputation of the abuses; that there is more transparency and more accountability where from the look of things, government has agreed to the points that we have and it?s a starting point. So it?s a way forward and so one lives with hope and yes, we feel very much encouraged by what?s there. The other thing is the matter of taxation. A lot of people have been suffering the crunch of increases in the cost of living. A lot of people have lost their jobs. It?s not easy especially in the case where a lot of people have not received their salary increases. This strikes closer to home with the public officers, teachers, police where third payment is being dragged out over two years. I need to say that the three year agreement we had on the salary increase was to try and bring us back to bridge the last in purchasing power over the last ten or twelve years. So we are back again in opening that gap. So that?s where we are. Increase and addition taxes only mean hardship on our people.?

Janelle Chanona
?Now in that context, for the past eight days since the teachers went on strike there has been bombarding and overwhelmed by numbers. You all have seen more important numbers in reviewing certain documents presented to you by the government in preparation for your meetings with them. They would have us believe that we are in such a bad state of affairs that we need to do this to get things back on the right page. You all are saying no. What are the figures that you are pointing to bolster that argument??

Dylan Reneau
?Well, you have to look at what is being said. Why would a government want to implement tax issues today? It?s certainly because we are in a financial situation. But what is causing the financial situation? Is it because or economy is not performing? There are not saying that. But certainly it points all to the fact that our deficit and our depth is becoming a serious burden to the Belizean people and that precipitated because of the mismanagement and the mistakes. I think that is where the Belizean people have truly and really think that is enough. Enough is enough. I think that is where the crooks of the matter lie.?

Janelle Chanona
?So let me put it in another way. If government were to come out tomorrow hypothetically and say you know what, the economy isn?t performing and we have to do this or sorts of bad things will happen. If they were to do that and say here is what went wrong will that in your eyes be some sort of consequences that would make you back off from your current position and say lets approach this now since we are seeing things in a different light??

George Frazer
?Let?s get a few things straight. The private sector has performed remarkable well as the Prime Minister?s budget speech indicate. Yes, some world market prices and other forces out there, imported inflation has affected but overall many of these sectors have performed fairly well. It?s the mismanagement and abuse of government?s finances that has brought us here. That?s the bottom line. So we have to get matters clear. We looked at tourism, some of the agricultural sectors apart from the drop in world market prices or fluctuation I must say. But the economy out there is not all that bad. Again government as the largest employer when they have to cut back on certain projects, for example with CISCO it trickles down. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs because the government gives out a lot of these contracts including to some of these companies and if government is cutting back as we know on certain Capital two or Capital three, some of these other areas will affect the wider economy. So all of these things have to be put into the context of what?s happening and the bottom line is that we are trying to do the impossible; carry water in a basket. We need to fix the system. We need to have the checks and balances and we need to get back to good governance and trust. These are the areas where we are going. Government has borrowed so much money and has not been good stewards in spending. We have investments in many areas where we know are a lot of waste. We look at Los Largos and other areas in housing. Yes, a lot of houses are being built as well as a lot of streets. But when you look at the figures much of the money that was spent is not properly accounted for and most of these were borrowed at high commercial prices. Now we are praying the price.?

Janelle Chanona
?Mr. Reneau is the strike working??

Dylan Reneau
?Certainly we believe that it is working. You should have asked the ministers that question. That would have been an interesting response.?

Janelle Chanona
?I did. What could you say right now for the parents out there who for some reason don?t really understand what?s happening? They just know that their child is not in school and especially to the single mothers out there who don?t have any option during the day when they are at work but to have their children in school. What is your message to them about everything that?s happening??

George Frazer
?We appreciate their understanding. As you can see there are thousands of students supporting the action. As people elevate their level of education, awareness, we have you all right here covering the issues. People are now aware of what?s happening. They see the effects because it hurts in the pockets; it hurts in the home when some of the basic things cannot be provided. What we are saying to the parents is that the ball is in the government?s court. We have given some very realistic and achievable proposals. Yes, we have seen some progress in the discussions and we are waiting and we are hopeful. For example in the meeting with the government they say they will respond as early as possible or as early as some time tomorrow. We will look at it. Once we see things are reasonable and we are also led by the wishes of our people and the public at large is saying we have to see the tangible proof. We have to see the walk and not just the talk and schools can be opened probably in another day or two depending on the response of government. We cannot just go with an empty basket. Let us look at what is happening. Let us put the talk into some concrete actions. We are hopeful this will happen. We want our children to be back in school and I as I said our teachers are willing to give back whatever lost time. We also proposed to the Minister of Education Francis Fonseca if we could probably push back PSE for probably two weeks to try and gain back. And there are measures in the past where we can catch up and this is what we are saying. We can do this thing together. Government come forward, we are hoping that you will meet with us, that you will come clean with the Belizean people and then we can move forward to make Belize a better place.?

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