"In January, the $5 minimum wage will be implemented," avowed Prime Minister John Briceño in his Independence Day speech on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister's announcement followed his reminder to the public that his government remains committed to addressing the scourge of poverty.
Briceño's position is consistent with the People's United Party (PUP)'s manifesto promise, in which they wrote: "As the economy roars back, we will increase the minimum wage to $5.00 per hour."
Departure from Phased-In Approach?
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the announcement appears to be a departure from earlier communications to the effect that the Government of Belize will employ an incremental methodology. In March this year, when the Government announced the formation of a Minimum Wage Taskforce, GOB stated:
"On November 25, 2021, Cabinet requested that the ministry develops a plan for the gradual implementation of the government’s commitment to a five-dollar minimum wage."
The the release added, "The task force will develop a plan to institute the government’s commitment to a five-dollar minimum wage."
The March 2022 release also acknowledged the potential economic impacts of a too abrupt and sharp increase. "The government recognizes that any increase to the present minimum wage would have implications for various sectors," GOB wrote. "As a result, the phased minimum wage increases must be linked to productivity growth and Belize’s competitiveness. With stakeholder input, careful consideration will be given to the impact of these increases on the various sectors of the economy in the short-, medium- and long-term."
BCCI's and NTUCB's Call for Balanced and Evidence-Based Approach
As The Reporter had previously reported, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) had both articulated support for a "balanced and evidence-based approach" to minimum wage uprates.
BCCI's Immediate Past President Marissa Longsworth, speaking on the BCCI's weekly program, “The Business Perspective,” explained, “We don’t have any objection to an increase in the minimum wage. ... Our concern more has to do with the mode of increase and how quickly that increase occurs.” The proposed increase to $5.00 would represent more than a 50% increase for employers who pay at the legislated minimum.
Also present on the same program was President of the NTUCB Luke Martinez, who underscored the unions’ position on the minimum wage. “The NTUCB’s has always been for a higher minimum wage. …Of course, we agree that it cannot be something that is going to be fast.”
Belize's minimum wage has stood at $3.30 since 2012. Given Belize's average annual headline inflation of approximately 0.8%, estimates indicate that $3.30, if adjusted only based on inflation, would be closer in value to $3.60. Therefore, there remains significant debate over the size of the increase that should happen in the short to medium term.