BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 15, 2016–Teachers are not backing down from their plans to hold a massive march on the nation’s capital, Belmopan, on Monday, September 19, in what the militant Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), which has over 3,000 members, says is a national demonstration “to send a message that we are serious about the changes that we are demanding” in a lobby which the union contends is intended to bring “good governance” to Belize.
This evening, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports fired off a 3-page press release taking a firm stance against the closure of schools Monday for the demonstration, which it calls a “strike.” The Ministry contends that there is no labor dispute and as such teachers who do not show up to work without cause can have their salary docked, and principals who suspend classes without proper authorization can face disciplinary action.
School buses will operate as normal on Monday and parents are urged to send their children to school as schools will be open for classes, the Ministry said.
BNTU president, Luke Palacio, said that it is just an intimidation tactic by the Ministry, to try to see if they can dissuade teachers from participating, but that will not sway their resolve to demonstrate in Belmopan on Monday.
“Teachers have had their pay docked before; that is nothing strange, nothing new!” Palacio told us.
“If it means we lose a day’s pay… that is what we are about!” he added.
In the headline story of our weekend edition, we reported that teachers had given the Prime Minister an ultimatum, in making key demands, such as a Senate probe into the revealing Immigration audits tabled in Parliament last month.
In all, the BNTU has a list of demands which were conveyed to Prime Minister Dean Barrow via letter on Monday, and although Barrow has responded to that letter, it is apparently not to the BNTU’s satisfaction.
The BNTU’s mobilization began last Thursday, a week ago, when it defiantly held a 1:30 p.m. emergency meeting despite challenges from the Government and school managements, which contended that adequate notice was not given for the meeting.
Again, the BNTU’s plan to hold a national demonstration and rally on Monday has been met with criticism from the Government, which alleges that the teachers have no reason to initiate industrial action. However, the BNTU asserts that it has a “mandate” from its membership. The union refers to a “planned schedule of further industrial actions,” but added that “…we await the PM’s reaction to signal activation.”
However, Monday’s demonstration, teachers were told, will be held “regardless of the response we get from the PM,” and participants will be provided with a lunch stipend.
Teachers are being asked to begin their public show of solidarity tomorrow, Friday, by wearing their green union T-shirts, or anything with green to signal their support. They are also being urged to wear their shirts in the uniformed Independence Day parade on Wednesday.
Apart from issuing a memo to its members, the BNTU has also written school managements via a September 14th correspondence saying that the union’s Council of Management had met on Saturday, September 10, and agreed to take decisive action “to change the negative perception held nationally and internationally that is currently plaguing our country and people.”
The BNTU said that in continuing its “Stand up for Belize” campaign, teachers will rally in Belmopan on Monday, September 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
It means that those participating teachers won’t be showing up at school, requiring a cancellation of classes. The BNTU asserts that “it is our constitutional right to protest and stand in solidarity to express our sentiments and highlight these issues.”
The Ministry of Education said that, “Given the Prime Minister’s response and willingness to meet with the BNTU’s Council of Management, it is our considered view that the position of the BNTU, as reflected in that statement, is not only unreasonable, showing little regard for children’s education and for inconvenience to them and their parents, but also a display of bad faith.”
Rebuffing claims from persons aligned with the ruling United Democratic Party, that the teachers are only concerned about their money, the BNTU says, “It’s about more than just the money; it’s about country.”