BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 13, 2016–It has already been 8 days since the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) made the call for national industrial action and the boycott of classes countrywide because the union felt that Prime Minister Dean Barrow wasn’t sufficiently responsive to their demands for better and more transparent governance.
However, the call for industrial action could have been halted given the results of a meeting at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City today between PM Barrow and the BNTU executive.
After four hours of meeting with the teachers, the Prime Minister was the first to address the media, and he gave the impression that the teachers would return to classes no later than tomorrow, Friday.
When BNTU president Luke Palacio emerged to talk to the media, however, it was to drop a bombshell — the protest continues for the 9th straight day, tomorrow, Friday. Palacio conceded that Barrow only addressed the good governance aspect of the union’s agenda but failed to adequately address the other labor-related matters included in its 8-point set of demands.
In regards to one item on the BNTU’s good governance agenda, which calls for the appointment of a Senate Select Committee with each political party of the Senate having one member, Barrow disagreed and maintained that his government would keep its two representatives as reflected in the motion presented by Senator Pastor Ashley Rocke on September 30, and which was passed in the Senate because of the Government’s majority.
On item two, which calls for an international investigation into the William “Donny” Mason saga, Barrow told the media that he would make efforts to source some external assistance.
However, the Attorney General would first draft the terms of reference by October 20 for the BNTU to consider and if the union is in agreement, the government would then seek to attain assistance.
Point three, which calls for the revival of cost-saving and revenue enhancement committees, was not introduced, as the Prime Minister had responded favorably in a previous meeting with the BNTU.
Point four, which calls for the institution of the Integrity Commission, was agreed upon by the Prime Minister, who affirmed that it would be instituted by November 14.
According to him, the setback of its institution was because he was unable to find a chartered accountant who would be willing to serve on it.
However, Barrow revealed that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry would forward to him a list of five potential chartered accountants, and then he would then proceed with the appointment of that individual.
Barrow also announced that he had agreed on the expansion of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which would make it a joint standing committee of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
According to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General’s ministry would work expeditiously to come up with the changing of Standing Orders and resolutions that would be approved in order to reconstitute the PAC.
Furthermore, he announced that he would sign legislation next Thursday to effect the 13th Senator.
However, it would take almost three months before that senator could be appointed, because the NGO Act has to be amended, and the process for an appointment from among the NGO community has to be worked out, he said.
Barrow also promised to amend point 5, which speaks to the Social Security Act.
According to the Prime Minister, he would extend coverage to employees both in the private and public sectors who travel to and from work in transportation not provided by their employers. However, he was unable to provide a deadline by which he would do so.
According to Barrow, he needs to consult with the chairman of the Social Security Board to discuss the proposed legislation.
On point six, which focuses on BNTU’s “Special Proposal 22,” which speaks to proper compensation of teachers and support staff of grant-aided schools, the Prime Minister objected that it was not something that he could or was prepared to handle.
He told us that that was a part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Government and the joint unions’ negotiating team.
However, the Prime Minister would convene a meeting with the union to close the current CBA round so that thereafter, this Special Proposal 22 could be discussed.
The call for inclusion in the tax reform process which forms point seven of the BNTU’s agenda was not discussed, as the Prime Minister had previously given the BNTU a favorable response.
According to the Prime Minister, the BNTU withdrew its final point on its eight-point agenda: the passage and implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill.
He told us that the BNTU had agreed to withdraw that from its list of demands and would instead channel it through the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).
When BNTU president Luke Palacio emerged from consultation with his executive, he told us that this meeting with the Prime Minister was even worse than the previous one.
According to him, the Prime Minister spoke exclusively about the union’s 8-point agenda, but failed to include the issue of the deferral of the teachers’ 3% salary increase, which the union will not accept.
Palacio further told us that none of the labor-related matters on the 8-point agenda were adequately addressed by the Prime Minister.
Palacio accused the Prime Minister of refusing to keep his word in more instances than one.
According to the BNTU president, the Prime Minister had previously agreed that if a police investigation was necessary into the findings of the Auditor General’s special report, consideration would be made for Minister Senator Godwin Hulse to be removed as Minister of Police.
Palacio also added that the Prime Minister had previously agreed that if they kept the classroom open, he would sign a statutory instrument amending the Social Security Act, which would thereby immediately provide coverage to employees travelling to and from work.
Palacio concluded that the strike will extend to tomorrow, Friday, and consultation will be made with the BNTU’s membership to outline the action that will be taken next week.