The Government of Belize, which formally announced Thursday that the minimum wage will increase to $5.00 in January 2023, has ignored the recommendation of the Minimum Wage Task Force, National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB)’s President Luke Martinez explained.
“For the protection of workers, and consistent with the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Balanced and Evidence-based approach, the task force—in line with its mandate—voted in favor of a phased-in approach,” Martinez explained, pointing to concerns that too fast increases could potentially cost jobs or accelerate inflation.
Furthermore, Martinez underscored that central to the task force’s deliberations was the need for the amendment to the regulation to have a minimum-wage-adjustment formula embedded into the law. “The formula should have been enshrined into law because we do not want any government to be able to play politics with wages,” stressed Martinez.
Martinez explained to The Reporter that the NTUCB remains convinced that workers really need $7.00 an hour, which is the ultimate goal. However, he said that there was also prudence in adhering to the ILO’s guidance as it pertains to having a “Balanced and Evidence-Based” approach. He explained that recent studies might place the $7.00 goal (and even the $5.00) closer to the country’s living wage, which is not the same as the minimum wage.
The NTUCB President also said that he was “disappointed” that the process did not make use of sufficient data and statistics to adequately guide the process. Martinez, in making that point, referenced the ILO’s Minimum-Wage Fixing Recommendation’s Article 10, which states: “To the extent possible in national circumstances, sufficient resources should be devoted to the collection of statistics and other data needed for analytical studies of the relevant economic factors.”
On Thursday, December 22nd, Honourable Oscar Requeña, the Minister with responsibility for the Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government, officially signed into law the official implementation of the $5.00 wage increase, which will take effect on January 1st, 2023, for all categories of workers.
The Ministry’s release also notified that the Ministry of Labour is currently reviewing a wage-setting methodology that will be used periodically to determine future minimum wage increases. This is likely a reference to the minimum-wage adjustment formula that Martinez said was necessary.
The wage increase was signed into law in accordance with the Wages Council (Wages Regulation) (Consolidation) (Amendment) Order, 2022, Statutory Instrument No. 169 of 2022, and Wages Regulation (Manual Workers) (Amendment) Order 2022, Statutory Instrument No. 170 2022.
The Minimum Wage Task Force, of which Martinez was a representative, was established in March 2022. The then Government press release informed that the task force was to “oversee the implementation of the five-dollar minimum wage commitment of PlanBelize.” The release also added, “On November 25, 2021, Cabinet requested that the ministry develop a plan for the gradual implementation of the government’s commitment.”
On July 1, 2022, another government press said, “The Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour, and Local Government appointed a Minimum Wage Task Force on March 2, 2022, to oversee the gradual implementation of the five-dollar minimum wage, a commitment of Plan Belize.” The same release explained that the hired consulting firm was to “submit a Plan for the Gradual Implementation of the Five-Dollar Minimum Wage.”
More recently, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), which also had representation on the task force and likewise cited the ILO’s approach, had told the media that they are concerned that too large increases could trigger adverse economic effects.