The Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) has filed a motion in the Supreme Court to challenge the 10 percent salary cut that has taken effect as of June 1st by way of the Public Sector Emoluments and Allowances (Reduction) Regulations, 2021.
The challenge is to have the Court look at specific factors such as the contract that teachers sign upon becoming employed. The basis of the argument appears to be that, under those employment contracts, teachers agree that their salary would be set at a certain pay scales with set amounts. Additionally, the BNTU also intends to argue from the vantage point of relevant human rights conventions that Belize has signed.
Regarding the contracts, it is worth noting that Rule 4 of the new Regulations specifically states: “Notwithstanding anything in any other law, order, award or agreement…the emoluments to be paid to a public officer shall, during the relevant period, be and remain reduced as prescribed in the Schedule.” The reference to any other “agreement” may include the types of contract that the BNTU is referencing in their court challenge.
Fundamentally, the regulation applies to public officers, which is defined in the amendment as “any person appointed under section 106 of the Belize Constitution and includes teachers employed at a government school and government open vote workers.”
The BNTU’s motion comes around the same time that a Ministry of Finance circular memorandum (No. 3 of 2021) (“the memo”) was circulated. Signed by Financial Secretary Joseph Waight and addressed to the Governor-General, the Chief Justice, the Auditor General, the Solicitor General, the Cabinet Secretary, Chief Executive Officers and Heads of Departments, the memo informs of the new pay scale for government employees who earn more than $12,000 per annum.
The memo quotes two new laws: The aforementioned regulations and the Public Sector Emoluments and Allowances Bill, 2021. The latter was passed in the House of Representatives last week and only affected ranking public-sector positions such as the commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, the commander of the Belize Defence Force, the Commissioner of Police and Ministers of Government.
The regulation, however, is consistent with the powers granted at section 106 (3) of the Constitution, which reads:
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Minister of Ministers responsible for the public service given after consultation with the recognized representatives of the employees or other persons or groups within the public service as may be considered appropriate, may make regulations on any matter relating to, …the fixing of salaries and privileges.”
Senator Smith informed the Reporter on Wednesday that the salaries of some teachers who had gone on strike were affected by that strike even before the salary cut took effect this week and now the BNTU is looking at ways to assist its membership with different fundraising activities. She said that the union has come up with a set of relief proposals that it will share with its Council next week. She explained that the dues that teachers pay to the union aren’t used to offset salary cuts, but instead to mobilize the membership and pay for transportation costs when there are things like the recent strike action.