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Feb 11, 2005

GOB & unions finally agree

Story PictureIt appears a settlement has finally been reached between the unions and the government of Belize putting an end to the strikes. It also appears the unions have gotten pretty much everything they were asking for in terms of raises, reforms and a review of the new taxes. Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
After weeks of industrial action, including a massive demonstration by teachers and public officers in Belize City, the National Trade Union Congress and Government this afternoon signed off on a ten point agreement addressing taxes, salary increases and reforms. With a full compliment of Chief Executive Officers, Commissioner of Police, Commandant of the Belize Defence Force and no less than five cabinet members as witnesses, Prime Minister Said Musa and the president of the National Trade Union Congress and leaders of the member organizations signed the six page document. Reading from a prepared statement, Prime Minister Said Musa said that today?s agreement marks an important milepost on the road to reform.

Said Musa, Prime Minister
?The struggle for freedom and justice is never ending. And in that struggle trade unions have a major and legitimate role to play. Today we are witnessing another product of the militancy of trade unions. This one achieved with the corporation of a government that has demonstrated its belief in participatory democracy and social justice. Our government has been engaged in a quiet revolution in the last few weeks opening the budget process has never before in the history of our nation. And indeed almost unique in the history of all nations and I have said that this is just the beginning. I intend to institute mechanisms to provide not only organised groups of labour and capital but also all service to society groups and community organisations the opportunity to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their lives and specifically in the shaping of the budget.?

The agreement calls for a three-member budget working group which will review the budget for the current fiscal year as well as the new budget to see how revenues could be increased while at the same time cutting expenditure. Among the specific measures to be considered is to see if it is feasible to increase the so called ?sin? taxes beyond what was approved by the National Assembly for fiscal year 2005-2006 and to conduct a comprehensive review of the country?s tax system.

With regards to the taxes, both sides agreed that the new measures and increases in existing taxes be suspended until March First during which time they will work together to determine if and when the increase in taxes will be implemented.

The Budget working group will try to find ways of reconfiguring the PM?s budget, bearing in mind GOB?s commitment to the target of maintaining the deficit to three percent of GDP.

But the agreement also states that if by March First no agreement is reached on the tax measures outlined in the NTUCB proposals, then government will be free to implement the tax measures contained in the budget. And the NTUCB will be free to protest them.

Under the agreement, public officer and teachers will get their promised salary increases of five percent for senior officers and eight percent for junior officers and pensioners as of April First.

GOB also gave in to the unions? demand to implement the recommendations of the Public Service Management Audit carried out last year.

By signing the agreement, the Prime Minister also gave in to the union?s demand for a commission of Inquiry and the appointment of a forensic auditor to investigate DFC operations over the last six years to determine if there were any financial wrong doings over the same period.

The results of the investigations, it was agreed, would be turned over to the Director of Public Prosecutions of further action, if necessary.

GOB will also, within thirty days from today, seek to collect monies outstanding to both DFC and Social Security Board and update the unions ever six months on the progress of these collections.

The NTUCB also got the Prime Minister to agree to give them a seat on the Board of Directors of the Central Bank. But more than just a gentleman?s agreement squeezed out of the PM during the negotiations, Mr. Musa also committed to amending the Central Bank Act to ensure that NTUCB, by law, is guaranteed a seat on the Central Bank Board.

Government also agreed that it will not penalize civil servants, including teachers, for time lost during the period of industrial action between January twentieth and February Fourth, provided that they agree to make up for time lost due to industrial action.

And finally, Government agreed to increase the subvention of the University of Belize by five hundred thousand dollars over what was passed in the Budget for fiscal year 2005/2006 and to give the university lecturers their increase.

President of National Trade Union Congress of Belize Horris Patten told News Five that after weeks of industrial action and marathon negotiations, this is the best package that they could have come out of the process.

Horris Patten, President, National Trade Union Congress of Belize
?As I said to you before, we are not quite satisfied. But given the circumstances, on the whole situation we think it?s the best. At this point in time we feel that it was the best position that could have been taken. We are hoping that we have given the widest latitude for the working groups to work together. This was our thing, to give them that openness so that they could move here, move there, and do anything they want so that we could come up with the best solution basically that was what we wanted.?

Patrick Jones
?So what happens now??

Horris Patten
?Well what happens now, come Monday morning, the working group will now have to start working. So we have already named our people for the working group. We have submitted it to them and on Monday morning we hope that at seven o?clock we start working because time is short. We only have until the first of March. Time is very short and if we want the results we want, we need to start working now.?

Patrick Jones
?Come March first or come shortly after that when the financial year starts, if it happens that we might have to say okay go ahead, we have to raise the taxes won?t the Belizean people feel disappointed, betrayed at the union who said no new taxes or no taxes having to eat its words??

Horris Patten
?We have considered this greatly. It gave us a lot of sleepless nights. How could you now go back to the people and say this? But in the truth and fact of the whole thing, we have been saying also to the people after this demonstration that if there is a need to raise taxes, we are looking at the sin tax in different areas. So they have heard us say this, but although our motive is no taxes. But it is proven and that?s why I am saying it is important to have the working group starting their job. If we get the working group to start their work, the importance of no taxes or taxes will arrive from their findings.?

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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