Contributed by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry
“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 government recognizes that any increase to the present minimum wage would have implications for various sectors. As a result, the PHASED minimum wage increases must be linked to productivity growth and Belize’s competitiveness”—Ministry of Labour via March 2, 2022, press release.
In our last installment of the Business Perspective, we had taken the time to elaborate a little on the economic reasoning and principles governing our support for a phased-in approach to the minimum-wage uprate. This time around, we won’t venture into those technical points again. Here, we are looking at something far more fundamental: The role of the Minimum Wage Task Force (“Task Force”).
As can be gleaned from the opening quote to this article, the Task Force was formed based on a request from Cabinet for a body to guide the “gradual implementation of the government’s commitment to a five-dollar minimum wage.”
Inherent in the mandate of the Task Force was the “good faith” understanding that the end result would be a phased-in approach. That is, of course, a self-evident point. Fundamentally, if the goal was always to implement the $5.00 increase immediately, then why establish the Task Force with the mandate to “oversee the implementation”?
In July this year, the government would go on, via the Task Force, to even hire a consulting firm to help in the carrying out of the group’s mandate.
“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…[The contracted consulting firm] will submit a Plan for the Gradual Implementation of the Five-Dollar Minimum Wage,” the Ministry announced via a July 1, 2020, press release.
Therefore, even from publicly available documents, it can be demonstrated that it was never only the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) holding the view that a phased-in approach was most prudent. This was the shared view of the tripartite partners, as informed by the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s “Balanced-and-Evidence-Based” approach.
Without getting into specifics, the BCCI will simply say, at this juncture, that the final recommendations from the Task Force were finalized and submitted to the Government in December 2022. More precisely, the Task Force had been engaged in decision-making meetings even up to as recently as the week of Monday, December 13th, 2022. At the time of writing, that was basically only nine days ago.
Nevertheless, since this year’s Independence Day, the Prime Minister and others have been declaring that there will be full implementation as of January 1st, 2023. And yet, again, in a media interview aired on Wednesday, December 21st, the Prime Minister said, “The plan is that we want to implement it on the 1st January in full.”
It is our firm view that the members of the Task Force acted in good faith. And, certainly, the non-government stakeholders legitimately expected “good faith” to have been exercised by our government partners in development.
Ultimately, the Task Force, a creature forged out of a Cabinet decision, did its job: its members deliberated and voted in accordance with its mandate. The members of the Task Force reasonably weighed the macroeconomic conditions and considered, inter alia, the admonitions contained in the ILO’s Minimum Wage Policy Guide regarding too-fast, too-soon increases.
Reasonably, no one—including members of the Task Force—expected that the recommendations emanating from the process would have been taken in full. The legitimate “good faith” expectation would have been closer to middle grounds being forged where possible. However, to have declarations being made by leading members of Cabinet even before the Task Force’s work was concluded forces questions as to whether or not the “good faith” was mutually shared.
On the Task Force, there was representation from the National Bank of Belize, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Economic Development, the University of Belize, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), and the BCCI. Did these entities waste their time and effort? Did government expend resources for nothing? In any event, Cabinet’s ultimate decision on this matter will signal the degree to which stakeholders can truly place confidence in these supposed consultative mechanisms and processes. It is a litmus test of sorts on the adherence to the tenets of good governance and the level of commitment to meaningful, “good-faith” consultations.