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May 14, 2020

War of Words – PM, P.S.U. and B.N.T.U. Disagree on “Forego”

Dean Barrow

It is a big day of news. So we start with the negotiations between the Prime Minister, the Public Service Union, and the Belize National Teachers Union. That matter is back to square one and the unions are consulting on a position before the deal can be sealed.  Union leaders met with the Prime Minister met virtually on Wednesday to attempt to resolve the impasse over the government’s proposed cost-saving measures. In order to meet its monthly cost of ninety million dollars; the government is asking public servants and teachers to forego increments. While the A.P.S.S.M. supports the government’s proposal, the P.S.U., in particular, opposes it, saying that public officers are willing to make the sacrifice but under certain terms and conditions. After the meeting on Wednesday, it was understood that cooler heads prevailed and the issues were ironed out. That is what the Prime Minister also thought until he received a letter from Senator Elena Smith, the National President of the Belize National Teachers Union who also spoke on behalf of the P.S.U.  In the letter, Smith told Barrow that certain words need to be changed because they do not represent the union’s position. One of those words is “forego,” as explained by PM Barrow.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We made clear that we government could not move from our position that the increments had to be foregone. I think the difficulty arises over the meaning of foregone. We explained it in this way. From the start we had said that you lose your increments from 2020/2021, but for any public officers as soon as that public officer reaches retirement age after 2021,the fiscal year, for purpose of calculating your retirement benefits we would act as though that foregone  increment we will treat it as part of the mix. Indeed because of the modalities of actually achieving that can be a little bit tricky. We agreed on the formation of a small committee that would examine exactly how the calculations would take place. I don’t need to trouble you with the particulars of that. The fact is that the agreement, government’s position was that you forego the increment although at the time of retirement those increments will be inputted into the formula to determine your pension benefits. The unions or at least two of the unions said that, no we only want the increments to be deferred until a time certain. I think in one case they said two years. They came up with another possible formula, as soon as there is a two percent GDP government. We absolutely, government refused to accept that. Where we are now is that they don’t want to stick by the language that had been read out at the end of the meeting. They want to change the language to say that the increment will not be foregone; they will be deferred even though they say deferred until retirement is reached. For me it is not a distinction without a difference. That was the crooks of the matter. Words have meaning. We agreed yesterday that it was a question of foregoing the increment and I am afraid that government is determine to stick to that.”

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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