Teachers from the three Cayo branches of the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU), and specifically from Belmopan, San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen, are scheduled to host their rally on Friday, January 24, as part of a national wave of rallies by the BNTU to raise the public profile of their efforts to get the Government to pay a minimum 5% salary adjustment for teachers and public officers in July 2014.
As a part of their campaign, the teachers are also taking on national issues – prime among them being corruption.
Education Minister Patrick Faber in a statement in Parliament this morning said that the teachers should not go to Friday’s rally – but report to work, because students cannot afford to lose valuable class time; but all indications are that teachers are moving ahead with the planned rally.
The minister said that Primary School Examination (PSE) grades have been stagnant for 10 years and they need to put their shoulders to the wheel, with everybody doing their part, to improve performance.
He said that there is no reason for the continued public campaign, because the Government agrees in principle that there will be a salary adjustment; however, it won’t be able to say how much that would be until after the financial year closes in April, and the figures are confirmed during the first quarter of the new financial year.
Faber said that Prime Minister Dean Barrow had told the teachers and public officers that a commercial oil find was expected in Gallon Jug, and he asked them to wait three months to confirm whether that was so; but as it turned out, the find was not commercial and so Government can’t make good on any offer in that area.
At a subsequent meeting, the Prime Minister said that 50 cents of every dollar of whatever increase in revenue the Government receives over the previous financial year, will go to pay teachers and public officers. It was also agreed that payment would be made in July, but be retroactive to April.
At the Belize District branch rally, teachers were urged to come out, in order to guarantee the floor of 5%, which they said members had asked the BNTU to hold out for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“How is it that a responsible government will be able to put a floor?” Faber questioned.
He said that Government remains committed to paying teachers and public officers from the additional revenues it has earned after the Caribbean Court of Justice unlocked dividends earned from shares in Belize Telemedia Limited, and in light of additional revenues coming as a consequence of Government’s assumption of control of the international merchant marine shipping registry and the international business corporations registry, but, he said, to put it into an exact number is not possible, because they don’t yet know what the increased revenues will be.
Faber said that the rallies have been “distracting the progress” of the children’s education. If the rallies are being held because the teachers are not getting a raise, that is bogus because the raise is coming; and if they are invoking industrial action because of a communication breakdown, that is also bogus, he said.
He noted that a meeting is set for next Monday, January 27, 2014, with representatives of the BNTU, so he is puzzled as to why the rallies are being held.
On Friday, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) issued a statement expressing its support for a phased wage adjustment for teachers, as well as the BNTU’s decision to use its campaign to also raise awareness on national issues.
Faber said that the Chamber “interfered in the business of the teachers and said they will support the teachers,” but he doesn’t see them leading a campaign to take down the price of goods or taking on those merchants who are fleecing consumers by charging a lot of fees on goods.
The BNTU has said that cost of living has increased 35% since their last salary adjustment.
As for the BNTU’s concerns about corruption, Faber conceded: “Yes! Corruption exists – and you could quote me on that! But it exists far more over there than over here,” he added, pointing to the Opposition People’s United Party and making references to the diversion of public funds and the signing of the secret agreements.
His comments sparked immediate protests from the Opposition, who challenged him to stick to the topic of his statement – which is, the salary adjustment for teachers and public officers.