Headline — 01 October 2013 — by Adele Ramos
OW and Cayo teachers “bang hookey”

The teachers stayed home because they weren’t paid on Friday – thousands of students affected

Catholic school teachers from the districts of Orange Walk and Cayo (including Belmopan)—who were not paid their September salaries on Friday, when they were due—stayed home today, Monday, in protest, resulting in the suspension of classes for thousands of students in those districts.

Ministry of Education officials say that the failure to deliver the first salaries for the school year was the result of “a glitch”—not a computer glitch, though, but a breakdown in the communication chain, which included failure by certain managers to supply supporting documentation to justify salary upgrades for some who had returned from study leave and arithmetical errors in certain other cases.

The Government of Belize pays 100% of primary school teacher salaries, but managements must submit their payroll so that they can be crosschecked and processed in time for payday.

Speaking with the media this evening, Education Minister Patrick Faber said he and other key education personnel have been calling the media to explain and assure teachers that salaries would be paid by Tuesday, at the latest. Faber said that news that some teachers still boycotted school today, Monday, despite the assurances, is “rather disappointing to me…”

Faber—who had been in conflict with teachers near the end of the last school year over comments he made about teacher performance—did say that his ministry shares blame for what went wrong with the payroll, but he said repeatedly that “there is no sinister plot to spite teachers.”

“This is something that is regrettable. I understand all the concerns that teachers have raised about their mortgages and so on and other commitments that they would have to have made by the end of the month, but this is not something that we anticipate will happen again in the near future…” Faber said.

He told the media, though, that he can’t promise it will never happen again, because “this is a huge system” and a number of things can go wrong. The only undertaking he gave is that they will work to minimize the problem in the future.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education, David Leacock, told Amandala today that although the school managements and the Ministry of Education did routine checks of the submitted payroll, discrepancies were found in some instances when the payroll reached the Treasury Department.

One problem, said Leacock, is that proof documents were not submitted for teachers returning from study leave, to justify why they were reverting to full salary.

Leacock said that this wasn’t caught by those persons who checked the payroll at the Ministry, but it was caught by the Treasury. Asked how many teachers were affected, the CEO said he does not have an accurate figure. He indicated, though, that the number may be in the thousands. Asked if this is an issue they have grappled with before, Leacock admitted that they have.

“We’ve had this problem before with the Catholic management, but I can’t comment on frequency,” he told us.

It was not just the Catholic school teachers affected by the missed payday, though. An apologetic statement issued by the Ministry of Education over the weekend said that some Government primary school teachers also did not receive their September salaries on time. Faber said that the total number of teachers affected from that group was 17.

“These teachers had one-year temporary employment letters that would have ended August 31, 2013. Unfortunately, new letters extending their employment were not issued and hence they were removed from payroll at the end of August 2013,” a joint press release from the Ministry and the Catholic management said.

Leacock said that a few other teachers were affected outside the Catholic and government school systems for different reasons, and so were, likewise, not paid on Friday.

The supporting document was supplied late Thursday and on Friday morning the payroll was sent back to the Treasury. According to the CEO, there might have been further discrepancies to sort out.

The joint release added that, “The Ministry and the Management of Government Schools are working diligently to resolve this matter, so that these teachers can be paid by Tuesday, October 1, 2013.”

It added that, where necessary, these teachers will be allowed the necessary time to access their salaries.

According to Minister Faber, on Tuesday urban teachers would receive a half-day off to make whatever pick-ups they need and to make necessary transactions, while rural teachers will get the full day.

A meeting with the Ministry of Education, the Treasury Department and primary school managements is planned for Monday, the Minister informed.

At the meeting, they hope to review all communication channels, procedures and requirements for the payment of emoluments to teachers, in an effort to improve on the payment of teachers’ salaries.

President of the Belize National Teachers’ Union, Luke Palacio, told Amandala tonight that the union is satisfied that the problems have been addressed and that the teachers will be imminently paid.

According to Palacio, the BNTU will also be a part of that meeting to review the payment of salaries to teachers.

(Amandala thanks KREM Radio News for assisting us with this report.)

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