Headline — 01 October 2016 — by Micah Goodin
Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 29, 2016–Several area representatives and standard bearers of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), including Hon. Tracy Panton and Hon. Michael Finnegan of the Albert and Mesopotamia constituencies respectively, among others, have been seen canvassing their communities and the schools within to discourage teachers from participating in proposed industrial action by their union, the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), and encouraging parents to send their children to school on Monday.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Patrick Faber, on Wednesday announced that on Friday, he will sign a Statutory Instrument (SI) to hire temporary teachers to replace those permanent teachers who may engage in extended industrial action.

Additionally, a leaked letter from the Minister of Education has surfaced today in which they are demanding that school managers submit to the Ministry a list of teachers who intend to participate in industrial action on Monday.

Nonetheless, BNTU president Luke Palacio called in to KREM’s Wake Up Belize morning show today to inform the nation that despite the government’s tactics, “the BNTU will continue with its industrial action on Monday and we will decide when we will call that off.”

In speaking on the attempts made by Minister Faber and his government to neutralize the BNTU’s efforts, Palacio told the show’s host, Evan “Mose” Hyde, “It’s a very sad day when the Minister of Education has decided to take the course of action that he has taken.”

Palacio further slammed Faber, who he says months ago dismissed teachers who were unqualified and is now turning to them to serve as replacements when the Statutory Instrument is signed.

Also, Palacio made the point that the government has not paid several permanent and qualified teachers for months, but is now prepared to pay temporary unqualified persons immediately.

“We will continue with industrial action on Monday, and we will decide when that will be called off,” he told Hyde.

According to Palacio, who says he polled his BNTU membership and they decided for industrial action, Faber is in no position to tell teachers when to go to school.

In an exclusive interview with Channel 5 on Wednesday night, Palacio revealed that he is prepared to challenge Faber’s SI in court if it is signed on Friday.

“The bottom-line, if he decides that he [Faber] is going to pass a statutory instrument enacting that he can employ persons to temporarily replace teachers who will be on strike, then we are prepared to deal with that, because there are rules governing how teachers are employed in this country, and the Ministry of Education can’t come and usurp that process. So, our union is prepared to challenge that,” he told Channel 5.

On Wednesday, Palacio completed a meeting with his union membership of San Ignacio and Benque, and according to him, they will undertake industrial action on Monday. Today, Thursday, he is meeting with his union membership in Toledo, and our sources have indicated that Palacio is receiving massive support there.

Today, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belize and Belmopan issued a press release which said in part, in support of the teachers, “These educational institutions are not the walls that make up our school buildings, but our teachers, the ‘beacons of light,’ who infuse these principles into the consciousness and formation of our children and whose unfailing dedication, commitment and selfless service make them heroes and a key stakeholder in nation building.

“Today’s battle for truth in governance being championed by these selfless teachers, adds to a distinguished list of battles bravely fought on behalf of this grateful nation and its children. Perhaps our teachers have been hearing most clearly and most loudly the echo of Christ’s words: ‘If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (Jn 8:32).”

At a meeting of the board of directors of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) held today, September 29, in Orange Walk Town, the BSCFA directors confirmed their full support for the demands made by the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) to the Government of Belize (GOB).

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) also sent out a release, publicly articulating its support of the BNTU. That release reads in part, “The BSCFA notes that the demands being made by the BNTU on GOB are just, as they seek to ensure good governance and respect for the workers. These demands are in relation to the appointment of a Senate Select Committee to investigate the 2011-2013 Special Audit of Immigration conducted by the Auditor General; the removal of Senator Godwin Hulse as Minister of Police to ensure an impartial and transparent investigation; the conduct of an international investigation into the Danny Mason case and the beheading of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas; the revival of the Cost saving and Revenue Enhancement Committees; the Institution of the Integrity Commission; the Institution of the Public Accounts Committee; the Appointment of the 13th Senator; the Signing of the UN Convention Against Corruption; the amendment of the Social Security Act to include coverage to and from work; the BNTU Special Proposal 22; Inclusion of the trade unions in the tax reform process; and the passage and implementation of the Occupational and Health Safety (OSH) Bill.”

“The BSCFA fully supports the BNTU in their demands, as they deal with matters of national importance, whose effective resolution has been long overdue,” said the release.

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